Yeah, I know. This is like playing Russian roulette or like kicking the map in the creek in that movie Blair Witch.
My first class is at 11:20 on Tuesdays. I sleep in until 8:30. When I get up, I do my usual routine. I put the water on to boil. I let the grounds sit in the press for 4 minutes. I shave. I write some correspondence. I make my bed. I gather up some cardboard for the design class. I make sure I have my phone. I walk to school.
Of course, I do not know if there will be the little paper of death on my desk, the schedule change. I take my chances because I am not doing anything wrong. I have been contracted to teach kids not sit around in the teachers’ office all day twiddling my thumbs listening to Chinese conversation. The teachers’ office is always noisy. It is impossible to get work done.
The teachers’ office is heated. The rest of the building is not. When I get to the fourth floor, the teachers’ office is full of Chinese teachers. The door is locked. An Anne opens the door for me. Everyone greets me, so much for being incognito in my arrival. There is no new piece of paper on my desk. I am safe. The time is 9:40.
Nevertheless, five minutes after my arrival, Michelle, my link teacher, arrives. I realize no one cares when I arrive, no one is taking notes. I do my job that is the important thing.
An Anne comes screaming into the teachers’ office. I ask Michelle what happened. She tells me a cock roach is swimming in the red bucket – the bucket which catches the overspill water from the water cooler. I go out and look. Indeed, a big water bug is swimming – maybe drowning – in the bucket.
Anne asks me how I say it. I tell her cockroach or simply roach. I do not say simply. My first class is the 7th grade readers. We are doing independent research in this class still. Neisha finished her paper a few days ago. The other students are still working on their papers. Jacky sits at the computer and looks up Chinese words and finds the English word for them. As I am looking over Venus’ paper, I tell Jacky to get busy on his paper and then I tell him he is retarded which makes him laugh. Venus did not write a bad paper. Her main problem is her sentences either are missing linking verbs or subjects. Fortunately, when I ask her to spot the problems with the sentences, she can spot them fairly quickly.
Fifteen minutes in to class, my boss comes in to tell me that in ten minutes I am to take the students to room 412 to have their photos taken. Jacky asks me what she wanted. I tell him it is none of his business and then of course I add retard. Again, he laughs. Fifteen minutes passes, I escort the four students to room 412. Jacky hands me his nylon sports jacket to hold while he takes his picture. He crosses his eyes for me and tells me he is going to take the picture like a retard. I laugh and cross my eyes and say “Like this?!” He laughs. My boss is in the room with the photographer. I tell Jacky to smile when his photo is taken. He doesn’t. My boss and I both laugh. Really, I do like these kids. The next thing I know someone has smacked me on the ass. I turn around and look down. Will the Beast is standing there. He is a bad kid but I do like him. The bell rings or rather the circus music plays. I ruffle his hair and head to lunch.
After lunch - actually, I am not mad. Disappointed, maybe, I don’t know. The moment I realized I cannot let this get to me is the moment this enormous metaphysical weight lifted off of me. Now, in many ways, I am free from the burden that being a caring teacher imposes.
This is what happened. Of course, it would happen with the 7th graders, the nightmares - Laura, the nightmare; Will, the beast; Jacky, the retard. Today, the students were to build a mobile home model. This was to happen with cardboard which they were instructed to bring from home.
But first, let me rewind for a minute. Last week, when my boss took me to buy supplies, we bought a box of cheap X-acto knives. Granted, both of us knew at the time how dangerous these are and we were hesitant but we bought them because the 7th graders do need them to do this project or at least for the project to truly be a success. Now, flash forward to today.
When I get to class, of course no one brought cardboard for their project which I knew when I was in the teachers’ office because Laura, the nightmare and her troll friends asked if they could have some of my cardboard as they told me that no one brought any. Actually, this did not upset me in the least. This is what I have come to expect. This was no big deal. My plan was to let people work in groups if they wanted.
Knowing no one brought cardboard, I walk into class armed with a bag of cardboard, enough rulers for everyone one, the substandard student drawings (from Friday)of the mobile homes, my pockets full of little bottles of glue and the X-acto knives. As I hand out the X-acto knives, I explain to the students they must be careful, they must be very careful with these. This, I say over and over almost as a chant, a glue mantra. Okay, in hindsight, I know it is stupid to give 7th graders who act like kindergarteners X-acto knives.
Within a minute of handing them out, before all of them have been handed out, Reina – whom I sometimes get confused with Shiny in the 6th grade - points to someone behind me. I turn around. Will the Beast is wielding his X-acto like a switchblade, slicing the air. Reprimanding him is pointless because after I scold him the rest of the boys and a few of the girls do the same thing. Jacky tells me he is going to carve up my ass. With little fanfare, I go back around the room and collect all of the X-acto knives. Nothing needs to be said, so I do not say anything.
Now, I stand at the head of the class with my box of X-acto knives, rulers, and the rest of the supplies that I brought to class. Eric, who looks more and more like a little cartoon animal of some sort each day with his chipmunk two front teeth and those glasses that cover half of his face, asks why they cannot have the knives. Like I am talking to a four year old, I tell him that they act like babies; they are not old enough to have these sorts of tools. What are we going to do now he asks? Nothing I tell him because I am leaving. With that, I gather up the supplies and walk back to the teachers’ office. Eric tells me not to leave. The whole class is quiet.
I decide whether to bother my link teacher Michelle – their homeroom teacher – with this or not. I decide not. Part of me - 90% of me – seriously considers leaving the school. I don’t. I walk back to the classroom and stand outside the door.
Everyone is really quiet which is surprising. After what seems like an eternity but in fact is probably only a few minutes. I walk back into the classroom. The supplies I left in the office. Some of the students are working on homework for other classes. Some of the students are doing nothing. Funny, the most problematic students are doing nothing as if they are powerless to do anything. The self-directed students - the students like Noam, Venus, and Keisha whom are the only good students in the class - are the ones who do work for their other classes.
At my desk, I open my notebook. I sit and write. Outside in the hallway, a sound breaks the silence, the sound of an elephant or an air horn. Everyone looks up. Jacky and I at the same time say ‘Oscar.” Everyone laughs. Who else could it be I ask? I walk out into the hall. Oscar is loudly blowing his nose. “Oscar” I say, not mad but loud enough for the 7th graders to hear me.
“She made me come out into the hall,” he says this and points into his classroom. Really, I do not have to think about which teacher may have made him come out into the hall but I look through the backdoor classroom window anyway. At the head of the class teaching, I see Athena.
Taking the apple from Jack.
The last period of the day is my lecture (geography, culture, BS, whatever) with the 8th graders. Today, I will talk about Nevada which is lumped into the Southwestern states though in no way is it southern. I have the same information that I gave the 7th graders with a list of questions. I go to the copy room to make copies. The copy machine does not behave. To myself, I say ‘screw it.’
I go to class. My boss is there. She yells at the students in Chinese. She is telling them to be seated I assume. Everyone sits down. Maybe she will be sitting through the whole class, I do not know. In my head, I plan my attack. Sure, I could not make copies. I will group everyone together in teams and proceed. As I get ready to do this, my boss leaves the room. Maybe she assumes I am in control or maybe she has more important things to do.
As soon as she leaves the room, I tell the class we have choices. Kevin asks if we can play basketball. I say we are going to play a game. Jack is holding a big red apple. He is about to bite into it. Of course, they are not to have food in class. I ignore this rule for the most part or maybe they ignore it in my class. To me, this is not really that big of a deal except for there is a pool of something that looks like fruit punch on my desk. Maybe I should put my foot down. I don’t.
I do, however, take the apple from Jack. I tell him it is very beautiful. It is the perfect big apple. Since I am holding it, I decide to take a bite out of it so I bite into it. He is mortified, mortified. As he watches mortified, I take another bite. Accidentally, though he probably thinks I did it on purpose, my nose brushes against the apple when I take the second bite which I am sure he did not miss seeing. At this point, I ask him if he would like to have it back. Really, I have only taken two bites.
“No that is okay. I give it to you.”
“Okay,” I say. “We are going to play a game.”
“What will we do after that?” Joker asks.
“We will play another game.”
“I knew you were going to say that.”
“No, after we play the geography game,” I say. “You can play basketball.”
This makes them happy. Now, Joker and Jack shush everyone and explain in Chinese what is going down.
Maybe I should not be such a pushover but if they do learn a little bit my boss says that is enough. She wants me to give them a pleasant experience with a foreign teacher. That is exactly what I am trying to do.
Since I do not have copies for everyone, I tell them to get into teams of three and four. As I am instructing, I am rudely eating Jack’s apple the whole time. And, I am really enjoying his apple. I almost feel bad. Actually, I really just chuckle to myself about it.
In how many professions can you take someone’s apple and just start eating it with no reprimands? Sometimes I do really love my job. Of course, the students are laughing at every bite I take because Jack keeps wincing. Jack is a good sport. Secretly, he wanted me to take his apple I know he did the way he was flaunting it and teasing me with it. At this point, he decides the loser has to finish the apple. This is one of the best ideas ever. I tell him that is brilliant and, of course, I go around the room holding it in front of Cathy, Alice, Judy, Mika, Eric and ask them if they would like a bite. This seems to properly disgust them. When I laugh maniacally everyone just seems a bit frightened.
The teams seem to be Kevin, Joker and Jack against Alexandra, Mika, Diana with Rebecca seemingly helping both teams. The rest of the students do their homework. Again, I should be a hard ass about this but then does it really matter if they know facts about Nevada? I didn’t until I looked them up.
The questions are along these lines...“Who invented slot machines?” “In what year did gambling become legal in Nevada?” “For what project were hard hats invented?”
The teams are evenly matched for the most part. Alexandra and Jack are the most vocal. Before I even say anything on the True / False questions, Jack answers false. The girls get the points for all of these because each one is true. True. True. True. All True. Now, I have decided after thinking about it. Now, I have decided this. Everything is true.
At the end of class, to William I yell head's up. He looks up. I throw him the apple core. He looks puzzled.