Wednesday, October 18, 2006

In Chinese – Translation Courtesy of Sooham

No longer do I battle with insomnia. Sometimes, I get home from school and I force myself to not fall asleep on the couch at 4:30. When I do this, I sleep until 8 pm which completely kills my evening. Last night, I tried to watch an Iranian movie but I kept nodding off. A movie about a couple traveling in the desert, and a group of abandoned children who had one teacher who was the village mechanic, the woman traveling taught them for a day while her photographer husband rode on the back of the village teacher’s cycle for parts to fix the Ford Bronco.

During the night, I dream of butter. Alarmed when I realized the butter I bought was not from New Zealand, I then realize I am dreaming. I did buy New Zealand butter.

Jacky, while I am preparing for my morning lessons, flies in to the teachers’ office with his thumb drive. He has his Harry Potter book report that he has been crowing about for the last two days. Neisha and Venus handed me theirs on Monday. Jacky did not seem to take it serious.

Not thinking much of it, after a meltdown lecture class where I kept each slide on the screen for a minute because the 7th graders had pissed me off, I tell Michelle (7th grade homeroom teacher) the sort of trouble I am having with the class after the class had told her I was pissed off. At this point, I was not planning on mentioning the hell that I am put through with these little monsters.

When Michelle, asks me about it later – the students must have told her I was pissed (I was in fact so pissed that halfway through class I stopped talking. I told them I was not going to talk the rest of the class. When they started to ask me questions, I mutely shook my head. This is when I let each slide project for a minute at a time which I timed on my watch); I told Michelle what I have been telling myself. They do not care. My class is not required. They talk the whole time. They do not pay attention. They make smart aleck remarks, and the worst thing is the smart aleck remarks are not funny, not even close to being funny.

She tells me maybe I make it too difficult. I tell her my slide show is mostly pictures. At the time, I did not think to tell her that the most obnoxious students happen to be my English speakers. I did tell her that I assigned book reports at the start of the year and I have been reminding the students about these reports. Now, the girls handed in their reports. The boys did not. The boys are Jacky and Eric.

Cut to design class yesterday, Jacky tells me he is almost finished with his book report. Before this, he had told me he could not possibly have it finished before next Monday. As he talked, I realized Michelle had talked to him. In some way, she must have threatened him because he told me he would have it the following day. This was good to hear. Now he is standing over me as I am trying to prepare for my first lesson, standing over me with a thumb drive that holds a Harry Potter book review.

From the thumb drive, I print Jacky’s book report. I do not expect much. He does not know how to construct sentences. Actually, I do not think he probably knows what a sentence is. He is actually not very smart.

When I go to retrieve the report from the printer, I am surprised. At first, I am pleasantly surprised but then I wonder when Jacky has had time to become a professional writer. The introduction is flawless.

Before I go off to class, I give the report to Michelle and tell her I think that he must have copied it from somewhere. There is no way he wrote it. She tells me she will make him do it over. If he does not, I should give him a zero.

When I come back from class, Jacky is at a desk intently writing the book report on a notepad. Since he is writing it freehand, I am fairly certain the report is truly his. No matter how bad it is, at least, I know, the work is his. I prepare my lessons. Occasionally, I look over at him. He is lost in the land of book reports and Harry Potter. After he has worked diligently for forty or forty five minutes, Jacky brings the report to me. Again, I am stunned. This time because the introduction is the exact same. How can this be?

Okay, sometimes, I may be a bit slow myself. I ask Jacky to let me see the book. He hands it to me. I look at the back cover. What he has written as the introduction is the word for word synopsis for the book. This is plagiarizing I tell him. In America, he could get expelled from school for this (maybe). The rest of the report is purely and exclusively his bad Chenglish. I tell him to write the introduction again….in his own words.

My last class of the day is the sixth grade design class. At this point, I expect absolutely nothing from this class. Now that I have a virtual literature textbook, the literature class is a breeze in comparison. Still, I struggle weekly with what I am to assign the little monsters to design in the design class. With no resources, no paints, no paper, no glue, nothing; I am not sure how I am to go about this.

And, if the students actually seemed to give any thought to the class. I would be more willing to foot the bill for the supplies. However, since the students are spoiled and lazy, I am not inclined to fork out any money for this class.

Today, we are looking at a timeline of inventions starting with the invention of calendar which the calendar’s invention has no official date. Before we look at the timeline, I ask for them to turn in their remake remodel projects. Out of 21 students, four projects are turned in to me. This does not even faze me. This is par for course with these kids. The only person who spent anytime at all on his project was Sooham. He made a bank that looks like a British Postal box out of a crisps’ tin. Lin, the second place, made a totem pole with a crisps’ tin and construction paper. Hers probably did not take longer than twenty minutes. This was a project in which I gave the students at least 3 class periods. They were to finish at home if they did not finish in class. Now I am at the desk in their homeroom looking at 4 and then 5 turned in projects. As the class progresses, a few more students hand in slapdash projects. None of them are even worth giving a comment. This is really pathetic.

I do not say anything. I am lecturing on calendars, how civilization adopted the current calendar. At one point, Sumran asks me why we are talking about calendars in a design class. This is a valid question. And, this just opened the door which I am sure she would have preferred to keep closed.

With the biggest smile I can muster, and in the most patronizing tone I can muster, I tell her if the class actually spent time on their designs and did not just hand me something that they spent no time on, we would do design but we are not going to design anything else because they do not care. Her design comes in third in effort and I ask her how long she took to make it. With no irony, she tells me twenty minutes. If they do not put effort into their work why should I put forth unappreciated effort?

A class that has not understood me for the last 6 weeks finally understands what I am saying. Funny, how English comprehension strikes students at the strangest times. Now, for once, every one is paying attention. I go on to mention how difficult it is to get them to clean up after class in the design room. I do not have to oversee the clean up after class because there is nothing to clean up if we talk about the invention of calendars and toothpaste. I tell them I quite like this arrangement.

With that explanation, I ask who has heard of plywood. Plywood - I assure the students - is very exciting. I draw a rectangle on the board with dimensions.

Oscar says “That looks like paper.”
“Oh no, this is plywood!” I exclaim like I am about to talk about the latest Harry Potter book. I then go into a long spiel what plywood is used for. The students look at me as if they want to cry. Oddly enough, I am enjoying myself.

At 5:30, I leave the apartment in search of supper. As I am thinking what I might buy at the grocer and baker, I practically, literally bump into Tanya (a Russian friend of Jennifer’s who teaches English to primary school kids and lives a few buildings a way from me).

Mistakenly, she asks me how it is going. This is the wrong question to ask me. She is carrying a small bag of groceries. I know she really just wants a ‘hi and bye’ conversation but…. I tell her my design dilemmas: the students put no effort into the work, they talk all of the time; they put no effort into the work; 6 of 21 students handed in the last project. When I am talking, I cannot even verbalize how frustrated I am. She is very sympathetic, empathetic actually. Last year was her first year to teach primary school. This year she tells me she has fewer battles. Last year, she spent most of the time crawling under desks picking up scissors. I tell her that at this point we are not even in the design room because the students are so hard to control.

Then, on top of everything else, I have no materials, no paper, no glue, nothing. At the first of the year, I was told I would be reimbursed for textbooks. I was never reimbursed. I am out over 400 yuan, out of my own pocket. Of course, if the children came from needy families and were not so blasted spoiled, I would not mind as much digging into my own pocket to help out. However, neither the school nor the students are needy. I am not spending money on the brainless, updated, vapid nouveau riche.

Tanya has a few ideas. Although, I was looking more for sympathy than ideas I listen. She has battled the same battle. Tanya is one of those really smart nice people. She gives me advice because she has been there. In my heart, I know that she will give me some really good advice. I try to cast my emotions aside as I listen. Sometimes, this is hard but I know this will be good for me. I need to listen.

The best piece of advice that she gives me – besides not taking anything they say personal: she tells me to put a sheet of poster board on the wall with their names on it. When they turn in projects, rate the projects 1 – 5 (0 for students who do not turn in anything). This is a way to put the projects into the students’ hands. With her classes, the students do not like to see their failures displayed publicly. I tell her this is good advice. Now, if I could figure out how to get some supplies without being out of pocket more money.

At 9 pm, Dad calls. He asks me how I am. He is sure all of my students like me. Sadly, I do not have the heart to tell them that they chanted (in Chinese – translation courtesy of Sooham) “Kill, Tyson!” today, after class.


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