Sunday, October 01, 2006

An Anne hands me the phone

And another melt down – And another meltdown – And anothermeltdown-Andanothermel – by this time, the meltdowns have become a common occurrence. Valium, I need valium or maybe a full strength Quaalude.

Last night I dreamt your face
The skin was falling off
The flesh was turning grey
This is a cave-in
I said I'd stay
Said I'd stay.

Somehow, I need to figure out, navigate my way out of these waters with my problem students where push pull always seems to equal meltdown. Somehow, I must devise a plan, a plan that I can enforce, a plan that is not just random threats. At present, I walk into class with the assumption that I will have to smack someone. This is not how teaching should be I do not believe.

I walk into my eighth grade design class, the too cool for school kids. Today, I am not in the mood for post pubescent attitude. The eye exercise falls during this period. Only a few students are doing the eye exercises. Everyone is talking. I cannot quiet them. I leave the room.

My boss is the eighth grade homeroom teacher. She is in her office. I tell her they are not being quiet. They are not listening to me. I am not sure what to do. We walk back to the classroom together. Her office is in the middle of the floor. The eighth grade classroom is the next to the last room.

My boss and I walk past the library, past the teachers’ office, past the copy room; we make a jog. We are at the eighth grade classroom. This is ridiculous, like a movie. We both look into the classroom. Within the few minutes that I left the classroom and came back, the eighth graders have transformed themselves into angels. Each of them is intently doing the eye exercises. Yes, I do feel like a bit of a fool. I shrug my shoulders. She leaves.

A few minutes pass. The eye exercises conclude. Once again, most of the students become unruly. More than likely, I am about a minute away from a cataclysmic three-mile-island meltdown. Jack (not to be confused with annoying Jacky in the seventh grade) is the loudest. I am at the back of the classroom.

As he is guffawing with Eric and Kevin, I walk up behind him. With the blunt end of my pen, I flick him as hard as I can in the back of the head. Of this, I am quite proud because the pen connects nicely. I know this must have hurt more than a little because I believe there might be the hint of tears in his eyes.

The whole class falls into laughter. Jack is the class-clown type which I don’t mind (sheesh, I have seen as many episodes of ‘Kotter’ as anyone else) but he will not shut up, ever. He constantly disrupts the class. For once, he is beautifully sullen.

Then, like a movie where you think Michael Myers, Freddie, Jason are dead, my boss bolts into the classroom. She has been spying from the hallway. Whether she recognized Jack’s loud booming voice or saw me thump him, I am not sure, but she immediately goes over to him and berates him with a mouthful of Chinese which sounds to my untrained ears somewhat severe. She then walks around to a few of the other kids and, in turn, berates them. She then stands at the back of the classroom and berates the whole class.

At the front of the classroom, I am trying not to laugh because the students actually look scared. Sometimes, I feel as if the other teachers do not believe how bad these kids behave. When my boss is finished berating the little thoughtless pop-less punks, she leaves the room. I go out the door at the head of the class and I catch up with her and thank her. She smiles and walks back to her office.

When I walk back into the classroom, I do not mention the stern lecture that the kiddos just received. At this point, I am certain the students have got the message. I have the grid and the example of the remake remodel design. After I explain the assignment – you must draw four drawings of your design, start to finish; I pass out the sheets of paper with the grid. And, I pass out the sheet with my example of the start to finish of a design for the students to use as a guide.

Several students draw one picture quickly and tell me they are finished. If I had timed them, I wager that this took them less than ten minutes, probably more like seven minutes. I explain patiently that the assignment is to draw the design in four different stages.

Cathy, Cathy whom caused my Chernobyl-sized meltdown last week, has drawn four drawings. However, they are not the different stages of the design. She has drawn four different designs. However, the drawings are actually all close to the same size and she has executed them with some care. This has taken her approximately twenty minutes.

Here, let me say that for the last week when we pass each other, Cathy and I ignore each other, whether she is scared of me or mad at me, I do not know. Whatever the case, we ignore each other. This I do not like. As a teacher, I want to instill into my students the sense of fairness. So, with Cathy, this is what I do:

First, I tell her that I can see she has talent as an artist. I then tell her the drawings are very good. I am pleased that she put some thought into them. She smiles. Then, I explain that she needs to draw them in the four different stages of the design. This, I point out to her on the example sheet that I provided.

Fortunately, she is ready to meet me halfway. She actually is quite accommodating. She does not roll her eyes to which I have become accustomed having students do. She drew the drawings in pencil. I tell her she can erase some of the details or I can give her another piece of paper to start again. She chooses to draw the design in the different stages over on another sheet of paper. This is what I hoped she would do. Then, I tell her that she is very good; This is something she might think about doing seriously.

William, I love William with the Disney animated birds for eyes and eyelashes but he can be a pain in the ass. He draws four plastic Gatorade bottles. All of them are different sizes. The drawing is sloppy. He has not used the grid. I explain he must use the grid.

The grid will help him size his drawing. He just tells me he thinks his drawing are quite beautiful. I tell him his drawing is not beautiful. And then, of course, I put him in a headlock.

He insists to me that his drawing is quite beautiful. At this point, I go to the front of the class where at her desk Cathy is finishing drawing her design in the four stages. She is taking a lot of care in doing this. Could she come with me, I would like her opinion. She follows me back to William’s desk. I ask her if she thinks his drawing is quite beautiful.

William looks up at her and bats his eyes – those by now famous Disney animated bird eyes and eyelashes.

“Very beautiful,” he says to her as he points to his drawing.

To this, Cathy just laughs and berates him in Chinese. At the end of her berating of him, to punctuate this, she picks up the Gatorade bottle that he is drawing and smacks him in the head with it. In that same manner that I laughed the other day when Lillian said to Kevin “because you’re so stupid;” I laugh uncontrollably. Cathy – happy - walks back to her desk and sits down. William rubs his head.

The bell rings. The students who are finished hand in their designs. Some of them actually did quite a nice job. I walk back to my office.

Will from the British Council and Athena ask me if I know the parts of a microscope when I walk back into the teachers office. I tell them I have no idea what the parts of a microscope are. They ask Mary as she is running out the door to a classroom. Athena has a science workbook open. They point to the part that they are looking for. She is labeling the names of each part in English. They are on the internet looking. Will clicks back from one link to another. They find the name of the part. The part is the aperture.

Mary comes back in as oblivious as ever.

“You don’t know what a microscope is?” she asks them.


Today is Saturday. Today, we have classes to make up for the holiday time. Although it is a holiday, we have to work extra days before the holiday to have a holiday, which to me means it is not really a holiday. Of course, this does not make sense but logic is displaced sometimes here in China. Oh well, this is China. Sometimes, the Alice in Wonderland absurdity of this place intrigues me. Tomorrow is the start of our six day holiday.

The second period has just started. I am with my seventh grade readers. Today, I am giving the seventh grade readers a free day. Jacky went to a wedding. Since I am not teaching a full class, I feel as if I have the option to let them have a day to catch up on homework and such. This class started with five students. Jonathan has transferred to another school. With Jacky gone, having a proper class with three students seems to me a bit ridiculous.

My boss comes into the library to talk to me. She calls me out into the hall. Mary is missing. She asks me if I have talked to her.

Who's the one that wants to slam it in the door and try to keep it
like a mystery girl
Who's the one that wants to kick it on the floor and try to beat it like a scattered rug
I'm talkin' 'bout love
(Who are the mystery girls?

All I know is that she and some of the others went bowling last night after work. Today is Saturday. We are working a Monday schedule. Since Mondays are my rough days, I had to spend last night preparing for today. Will from the British Council invited everyone to go bowling which sounded like it would have been fun but I did not want to be ill-prepared today. Last night, I was a good boy. I stayed home and worked.

These days, sadly, I do not mind staying at home and working. That probably says something really dreadful about my life. Nevertheless, last night, I worked on lessons and today’s lecture. When I was finished with work, I rewarded myself with a movie scripted by David Mamet.

Now, my boss is worried about Mary. This is strange. Mary does know that we have classes today. Furthermore, while they bowled, I am certain that the whole crew talked about not wanting to come to school to teach today which is natural, which is what we tend to do when we are together in a group. My boss is very worried. Mary’s phone is off. When my boss tells me this, I take this to mean the phone has been cut-off.

All of these strange possibilities flood my brain, these possibilities fueled by my consumption of Hollywood thrillers.

Blank Frank he’s the messenger of your doom and your destruction.

All I have seen of Shanghai is definitely PG at the worst. Maybe Mary has stumbled into some underbelly underworld, made willingly or unwillingly into the escort and concubine for some Kung Fu Mafioso.

What I buy is mine
And I always get the things that I choose
My, my, my, such a high roller, is that you?

Granted, Mary does not strike me as the most responsible person in the world. However, she is not the type who does not show up for work. This is a bit distressing. Since I know she was with Andrea last night, I walk out back out into the hall and call Andrea. When I tell her Mary has not shown up to teach, Andrea is surprised. Yes, Mary knew that we were teaching today. She told me they did go bowling. After they went bowling, Mary met up with some other friends. Andrea sent her a text later in the evening but did not hear back. Andrea is worried.

Once Andrea tells me Mary met up with other friends later in the evening, I am not as worried. Maybe wrongly, I assume Mary drank at the bowling alley; buzzed, she met her friends, drank some more, got wasted, passed out at one of her friends or passed out at home. Now, she is probably at home sleeping it off. This, I do not voice to anyone else. This is not my business. And, if Mary has been whacked and I just assume she got wasted not whacked, I would feel slightly awful.

In the library, my class stays busy reading, working, catching up on homework. They do not seem to notice me disappearing, reappearing. My boss walks past the door of the library. I go out to tell her what Andrea told me. My boss asks if I know where Mary lives. Really, I don’t, I have not been to her place. Andrea knows. I call Andrea and hand the phone to my boss. Andrea knows where she lives but does not know the address. With the communication barrier, the location is difficult to explain to my boss.

My boss decides to go get Andrea and they can try to locate Mary together. This has to happen quickly because Andrea has a class next period.

An Anne (there are two, Athena sits between them) hands me the phone. I am sitting at my desk. Sean – with Vince and Oscar buzzing around him – is buzzing around me. He is at my desk for a chord chart.

Class starts in seven minutes. I am gathering what I hope I need. My boss is on Anne’s phone which Anne handed to me. My boss is at the East campus gate. Andrea is not in front. While she is telling me this, I dial Andrea’s number. Andrea has a class in seven minutes. She is in the building. I tell her to run out and meet my boss at the front gate. Both of them are talking at the same time; they do not know I have a phone on both ears. Kevin walks in. He looks at me quizzically and laughs. He was about to ask me something. Seeing the two phones and the three boys buzzing around me, he does not ask me. He walks back out.

I copy and paste chords from a master chart and then print them out for Sean. Then, I run to find Anne to give her back her phone. I run to both ends of the floor. I cannot find her.

A minute before the next class starts, she walks back into the teachers’ office. I hand her, her phone. I rush off to class, a thankfully uneventful class with my sixth grade readers. During the class, my boss pokes her head in the door and gives me the high sign. Mary has been located. Good, I would feel rotten if something had happened to her.

Jump to conclusions, yes, I do not want to jump to conclusions, but, after class, when I walk back into the teachers’ office, Mary is there. She tells me she feels horrible because her phone is not charged. She does not have an alarm clock. She uses her phone as an alarm. She overslept. She is not her usual peppy, annoying, self-promoting self. Yes, she does seem to have a hangover but, of course, I am not making any accusations. This is merely just an observation.


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