Thursday, October 19, 2006

In the time of Helen Wheels

Today is the guitar class. Last week, I taught only the local students which I thought would be a lot easier. They do not come from wealthy families. They are not spoiled like the international kids. Last week was no easier.

There is no way to get around that this is just a tough class. With the communication barrier, it is tough to lecture the class as a group. And, with 17 students it is very difficult to give the students any sort of individual attention.

All of the students went to the library in Shanghai this morning. I did not have to be at school until after lunch. I arrive for lunch and have lunch with Michelle and the public sector art teacher. They sit on each side of me in the office. Lunch –chicken and vegetables, head intact shrimp, bamboo, rice - was brought up to the teachers’ office today.

As soon as the students get back from the library, they storm into the teachers office yelling “Teacher! Teacher!” and running to my desk. Sumran wants me to help decorate the school for Halloween. I tell her this will be fun.

All of the hoopla, the hoopla concerning my hoped for demise, seems to have died or at least subsided, a villain one day, a hero the next. Sumran when asked if the students still want to kill Tyson, she tells me that was yesterday because they were bored by my boring presentation. I was bored by my boring presentation. This life is a roller coaster. I have up and down days with these kids but I do love them.

Before I have the 6th graders for the lecture class, the 7th grade English speakers have their reading class. Neisha and Venus are always pleasant. Jacky and Eric are often smart alecks. Today, we are going to talk about an article that I Xeroxed from the Guardian - Yahoo! profits drop as net veteran feels new stars' challenge.,,1925501,00.html

Perhaps, this seems a bit over their heads since this is from the Guardian but I feel as if it is an interesting article. These kids need to be a little more aware. This seems to be partly my job. Assigning them an article from the business section does not exactly captivate them like Harry Potter but I feel this is important.

During class, they read the article. They do not really understand. In the questions, I ask them what an ‘evolving medium’ is. They have no clue. I try to explain it to them. They stare at me blankly. Neisha and Venus seem to be truly interested. Jacky and Eric are both disrespectful and rude. At one point, I ask Jacky if he would like to leave the class. He starts to behave. Everyday, this life is a struggle.

After they have read the article, I give them some questions to answer and then we talk about the article. I ask them how much time they spend on the internet. Eric spends an hour a week. Neisha and Venus spend an hour a day. Jacky never gets on because he would never get off.

After the readers, I have the geography lecture. Today, I lecture the 6th graders. Before I start the lecture I ask them if they want to talk about the design class. Half of the class immediately says no. Sumran says yes. She then tries to explain to the others why we should talk about the design class. Vincent helps her. I tell them they then must sign a contract. Before I pass the contract around the room, I explain the contract. Several students translate the stipulations to the others. I ask if this is okay with everyone. Everyone is in agreement. I pass around the contract for the students to sign.

Contract for Design Class: Instructor Tyson Meade

By signing this, you agree to the conditions set forth by the teacher (Tyson).
1. You will be respectful of your classmates and of me.
2. When you are in the design room, you will work on your design
3. You will take your design work serious.
4. After class, you will help tidy up the design room without being asked.
5. You will bring the supplies that I ask you to bring. If you do not bring these supplies you will discuss the reason you did not bring the supplies with your classroom teacher (Athena).

If you do not follow these rules, we will not design; we will only talk about design.

Sign your name below.

Sumran goes around the room. Everyone signs. I tell them if they break the contract I will be forced to go back to strictly lectures. Everyone is very agreeable. Maybe I should have done this in the beginning.

After we discuss this and I give them the list of the materials to bring for the next class – everything you need to make a construction paper Halloween card; I go into the lecture on Alaska. What I do like about the lectures, I learn more about the states than the students do. When I am doing research, I try to uncover the most interesting facts about a place. Sadly, we do not get all of the way through the lecture. Before we get to dog mushing and the Arctic Circle, the bell rings.

From here, I have to quickly grab my guitar and head to the auditorium to teach the guitar class. The guitar class is my albatross. At this point, I have no idea what to do. There is only one of me. There should be 5 or 6 or me to properly teach this class. All I can do is all I can do.

When I arrive at the auditorium, a choir practice rehearsal is happening. Jacky tells me maybe we are in the wrong room. I tell him this is the room where we are supposed to be. He is not completely satisfied with this information. I tell him he must go get his drum. That is his job. He asks me where his drum is kept. I tell him on the first floor where we got it before.

The choir actually sounds good unlike my band of ramshackle miscreants, my miscreants who I am trying to teach guitar but feel as if I am failing on a grand scale, a scale on the proportion of a Robert Stigwood flop.

As I stand near the door, more of my not-such-budding guitarists show. All of them look at me as if I have the answer. Jessifer and Angel – students from the local sector – arrive. Jessifer tells me that the choir will go as soon as our class starts. They must be running over.

Actually, I look forward to the day when my class runs over because that might mean that the students are actually learning something from me. I am actually teaching them something. Something is transpiring

Jessifer puts her guitar in the doorway and walks away for some reason. Of course, I do not notice this until the choir is dismissed and the students leave the way students leave and someone naturally bumps the guitar which knocks the guitar over. This happens as Jessifer is walking back. I tell her that was not the best place to put the guitar.

The students and I file into the auditorium. Before I walk in, I grab a bench from the stack of benches in the hall. Currently the auditorium is bare. My boss comes in with a student.

I tell the students who are at the back and middle of the auditorium to come to the front where they can hear me and where I can hear them. My boss smiles at me. I smile back. She is one of the nicest people I have ever met. My boss puts me at peace, even when the students are chanting “Kill Tyson!”

Neisha, Alice, and Noam come into the classroom. They do not have guitars. This is their first time in the guitar class. I tell them without guitars this will not be much fun. They do not seem to mind. They sit and listen. My boss listens as I have the students tune. This is always somewhat disastrous. No one seems to know how to pay attention. Some girls sitting beside me with poor English chat as I am trying to get everyone to tune. They do not seem to think this means them.

The whole concept of tuning seems to elude most of the class. This is one of the most frustrating aspects of the guitar class. Kevin stands right beside me, points to his guitar and says “Teacher! Teacher! Tune! Tune!” My boss stands long enough to realize that we are probably not going to turn into an accomplished assemblage of guitarists while she is standing watching

I love Kevin. I tell him he sounds like Peter Lorre. Jacky laughs. Jacky of course does not know who Peter Lorre is. I try to imitate Lorre but I cannot get the voice right not that it matters know one knows who Peter Lorre is. With that being said, I do a perfect Peter Lorre imitation.

Although, I tell the students they have to tune the guitars, I seem to tune them when it becomes hopeless. This takes probably ten minutes but it seems like 30. For the next 30 minutes and the 40 minutes after that, I try to get the students to properly play a C chord. No one does. No one does except for Sean. Sean is a pain in the ass smart aleck who does seem to know how to play a little bit on the guitar. I tell him he must go around and show the other students. He acts like this is putting him out but I think he likes it.

As I make my way around to each student, I have each play a C chord for me. Each student is bloody awful. I have a year of this to look forward to. Now, I have the highest regard for music teachers everywhere. Junior High Band conductors I salute you. I could not even imagine dealing with brass.

Jacky at break tells me he is ready for the next lesson. I tell him he must learn to play faster. I have to show him how to hold the sticks again. He plays a little bit but then goes out into the hall. Other students wander in.

Jacky wanders back in and comes and sits next to me. “You monkeys get out of here.” I yell to the students who are not in the class. One of these students is Vincent. Vincent is a pain in the ass but I do like him. Jacky laughs.

He tells me he wants to sit by me while I teach. He wants me to play a song. I tell him I am not going to play a song. Again, he tells me to play a song. I tell him I am not going to play a song. I want the students to learn how to play a C chord.

Then, I launch in to “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” Yes, I could never hear this song again but when I play it, it has this concrete meaning to me which is cliché to say the least. As a youngster, I confused this song with “The Letter” for some reason. Why, I do not know.

Jacky keeps asking me how to sing the first line. He tries to sing it. I give him a Xeroxed copy of the song. I play it again and sing it as he tries to sing along. He tells me I sing to loud. He then tells me can we sing it without the guitar. I tell him this is guitar class.
“This is not non-guitar class,” I say. “This is guitar class.”


In the time of Helen Wheels – before B.O.C. E.T.I., Patti Birdland, Distant Fingers; there was a boy, a boy who echoed future songs, a true Lonely Planet Boy who listened, on a green and white plastic General Electric Stereo, to Wings and he dreamt. He dreamt he would be taken away from the farm – the farm with the apple orchard, arguing siblings, the mulberry trees and the 44 non-working steam engine tractors – to a star or a galaxy – in science class, he had just read of the galaxies – somewhere in the distance. His parents sometimes talked of the cigar shaped UFOs that flew over their two story house. This made him ache to be taken away by one of these cigar shaped crafts.

Many years passed, he was no longer the Lonely Planet Boy. Now he was an adult in the middle of his life. Although, he did not still wish to be taken away a great distance from his family, that is where he found himself when he arose from a walking slumber. If pressed, if asked, yes, he would trade this for the farm with the apple orchard, the mulberry trees, arguing siblings, and the 44 non-working steam engine tractors. However, this was not to be.


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