Maybe I should not have coffee with me in the library, but I do. I am trying to settle the 6th grade readers down so that we can finish reading the Tell Tale Heart. Sumran says that I drink too much coffee. This I could debate with her but I do not. These days, I usually drink iced coffee that is mainly milk anyway.
This is the second time I have brought coffee into the small reading group. The first time was yesterday. At that time, they told me their dad drinks instant. Gravely, I told them to not let their dad drink instant. Oscar, at the same time, as usual, while I was talking, asked how to make coffee. I told him first you had to grind the beans.
They pictured an old hand-crank grinder. No, I told them, an electric one. Oscar asks how much that costs. I tell him $1,000. He tells me “Wow.” No, I tell him, only ten dollars. Sumran laughs. I try to explain it. They would not let me finish. We then started reading Poe.
Today, I would like to finish the story with no interruptions if that is possible. Sooham shows me that he has finished his homework. I tell him he may go over to another table and look up the vocabulary.
Yesterday, we made it to the part where the narrator kills the old man. Now, I start where the narrator dismembers the body. Kevin, as soon as I read the last word of the short paragraph asks – “Teacher, what does this mean?”
I demonstrate on Kevin by pretending to cut him up. Sumran laughs. My boss walks by and pokes her head in. She points quizzically to Sooham. I tell her he is ahead of the other students. She nods her head in what I imagine to be relief and continues on her way down the corridor.
Poe is perfect. Poe is perfect for my dramatist aspirations. “I then took up three planks from the flooring of the chamber…” I read. I have to explain this to all of them. “Teacher, What is planks?” “Flooring?” “Chamber?”
This completely baffles the whole class. I tell them in some places like in the USA and England people have wood floors with crawl spaces underneath. I tell them to follow me. They follow me to the design room which has a wooden floor. The affect is lost because the floor is laid on a concrete slab. We go back to the industrial-carpet carpeted library. I draw a picture of a wood floor. Sumran understands. She draws a picture to help me explain more in depth. The others still do not understand. Oscar tells me they had a place in the floor in his house in Australia where you could hide things. I asked him if you could hide treasures there. “No, blankets” – he tells me.
Oscar, albeit smart, does not understand that the narrating murderer lived with the old man. He thought they were in a boarding house or hotel. In mock exasperation, I say - “No! No! No! The narrator was the old man’s caretaker.’
“Catacker?” Kevin asks – “Teacher what mean?”
“Care-tak-er,” I enunciate for Kevin.
“He is someone who cares for the old man. He takes cares of him. The old man probably pays him and gives him a room.”
“Kevin!” Sumran starts to get impatient.
She is fed up with me explaining and explaining and explaining. She starts slowly reading aloud herself. I let her.
Today, I have another hopeless guitar lesson to look forward to, an hour and a half of aural torture.
I cannot believe this. On Thursdays, I have an English lesson in the morning and then an English lesson in the afternoon and the guitar class. When I come back from my apartment at twenty past one, Jacky comes to my desk – “We are waiting for you in library.”
“Why are you waiting for me?”
“It is our English class.”
“Your English class is not until next period,” I tell him.
“No, English class is now,” he states as a matter of fact.
“No,” I say almost losing my patience, “next period.”
“Check your schedule,” he says.
I do. When I do, I realize I was looking at Wednesday afternoon not Thursday afternoon.
“Oh, I am sorry,” I say and add, “I will be right there.”
“That’s okay. We have had a free period for the last twenty minutes.”
“Well, I am sorry. I cannot believe I did that.”
“That is okay. We won’t tell anyone.”
Somewhere in the mist of words is an analogy – the guitar class is a bad marriage or a lover you loathe that waits for you for no other reason than to just taunt you and bully you and mock you and feed you self-loathing fuel. This is what the guitar class has become.
All of the tables and benches are back in place. I go to the front of the class and sit on a table with a piece of – my favorite invention – plywood covering the table top. Neisha, Noam and Alice wonder in. They go to the back tables. I tell them they will not be able to hear if they sit in back. I will not be able to help them much. They move up one table. Not that that helps much.
The local students wander in. More of the international students wander in. Jacky sits on a bench near the front. Why he is in the class at this point, I do not know. I think it is because he likes me. Jacky, as much of a pain in the ass as he is, I do really like him. He blow dries his hair so that it sticks up a bit in front in a very hip sort of non-hair-product way. Lately, I get a kick out of mussing his hair just to hear him yell at me for messing up his hair.
Now, I just say, “Hey let me fix that.” with those words his hands shoot to his head as an instant defense. “No, don’t mess up my hairstyle,” he tells me. Part of my job, I feel, is to familiarize them with sibling hazing. This builds morale and character, and really makes me laugh.
Once everyone is in the room, I try to get their attention. Today, I do not even start by tuning. The first thing I do is hand out a sheet with the names of the strings on it; this should have been the second lesson. It wasn’t. They have no clue why they might need to know the names of the strings. Kevin at this point is sitting right beside me. He starts mocking me. Already, I am not in the mood for any shit. I ask him if he would like to not be in this class because I could certainly arrange it. He straightens up quite fast.
Part of me, a really big part of me, thinks maybe my best course of action is to just bring a good book and read during this period. If they would like to ask me questions that would be fine but at this point, I am absolutely accomplishing nothing but making myself crazy.
Everyone has left the class, almost everyone. Eric and Sean are still hanging around. Eric asks me, begs me to play a song. No I tell him. Please, he insists. He keeps insisting. I start to play one. He gets distracted. He is not listening. I play a verse and pack. He asks me why I stopped. I do not want to explain. I tell him it was a short song. I may play for him again sometime. At this point, I seriously doubt I will.
Sean asks if I know how to play ‘The House of the Rising Sun.’ No, I tell him. How do I explain that I could never hear that song again and be okay? How do I say its okay to an answering machine? Sean then asks if I could play ‘Hotel California.’ Maybe, maybe I should start playing these little idiots Replacements’ songs as if they are the same sort of classics as 'Hotel California' or 'The House of the Rising Sun.' I could feign shock and disbelief when they say they have never heard these songs.
After guitar class is over, once again, I feel relief, the sort of relief you feel after you have inadvertently been dragged behind a car for a few miles and you live to tell about it. Mary is in the teachers’ office. She asks me how it went. Terrible I tell her. Between the language barrier and kids doing their homework in class this is the worst class I teach.
“But it is supposed to be fun,” she says.” You shouldn’t let them do their homework.”
I tell her it is the one class that I dread more than any of them and I just do not care at his point. I do not know what to do. It is like once the students realize this is not going to be easy like a video game, they lose interest. I absolutely do not know what to do. Maybe I just need to make it easier, easier on them, easier on myself. When I was 9 years old, I started taking drum lessons because I really wanted to play.
“9 years old? That is so young” - She says.
“Yeah,” I say, “at the time that is all I wanted to do. With these kids, they have no real desire to learn so it makes it that much more difficult. Oh well, at least it is over for this week.”
Mary is quite sympathetic which is nice. Mary can be really good at times.
“Well if they do not want to learn, you cannot force them. My mom made a deal with me, she gave me the same amount she gave my piano teacher if I learned piano,” Mary tells me. “I took for two years because I got sixty dollars every time I had a lesson.” I grab my backpack and guitar and leave the office and start home.
Going down the stairs, William and 8th grade Kevin are in front of me. I catch up with them on the 2nd floor. They are rowdy at the end of the day. William’s broken leg does not seem that bad. Although he does have crutches, he does not hobble the way he would if he had a bad break. He walks as if he has a bad sprain. A girl in the public section of the school is ahead of us.
“This is Jack’s girlfriend,” William says to me as we pass her.
She responds with some sort of ‘I am not’ response and proceeds to smack William quite a few times in a row and she lets loose a string of Chinese on him. Kevin laughs heartily which leads this girl to smack him a few times. As this is going on, a student, whom I have never seen before, walks up to me.
“You are a foreign teacher?” he asks.
“Yes,” I tell him.
“I do not know your name.”
“My name is Tyson,” I tell him.
He thinks for a minute and then he chuckles when he realizes my name is Tyson.
“You are very handsome,” he says and then walks into a classroom.