Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Beatles are eating hamburgers.

Two hard boiled eggs - vacuum sealed for my protection - are on my desk. One of the teachers had a baby. I am not sure who it was. I have not seen a pregnant Chinese teacher waddling around while I have been at school. From what I am told, this is good luck. These eggs are the Chinese cigars.

At the moment, the 7th graders are doing a research paper. Neisha is doing hers on equestrian. Venus is doing hers on some crap Taiwanese boy band. Jacky is doing his on basketball with an emphasis on Kobe Bryant. Eric is doing his on Houdini. Originally, he told me he was going to do it on magic. While he was doing a search, he came across Houdini’s name. I persuaded him to do his paper on Houdini.

No matter what I say, for them writing a paper is copying and pasting paragraphs someone else has already written. Of course, I try to tell them this is plagiarism but that is a word that rings hollow. After all, I do buy any movie I want here in the People’s Republic for less than a dollar. Intellectual property, there is no such thing.

Okay, so I have got used to the fact that in China, when it comes to teaching, there is no on the job training. Or, actually, on the job training is the constant feeling that you are being swept into some sort of Niagara whirlpool that is about to plunge you - like a love-struck honeymooner - in a barrel off of the falls. Looming ahead like Dorothy’s twister is parents’ day. Yesterday consultants came to hear our English lesson plans for parents’ day.

This is something that I have been dreading. Part of me says ‘bring it on.’ The other part of me is like ‘what the f…?!’ The part of me that is not worried has become somewhat lackadaisical. Actually, that is not accurate. I have decided to stop being overwhelmed by this whole thing. At the end of the day, I am a teacher; it is important but I cannot sweat it. I have to ride it like the Himalaya at Bells’ Amusement Park in Tulsa.

The other part of me really would like some help. Falsely, I was under the impression that Doug who we conferred with on Friday would be the consultant we would talk to on Monday. I was going to put a few of my cards on the table at that time and tell him I was not really sure what to do for parents’ day.

Yesterday, when I showed up to meet with the consultant who I thought would be Doug. There was no Doug. Staring back at me were three Chinese people –two men, and a woman. Needless to say, I was shocked. My plan had been foiled. The only thing I could say was – “I thought I was meeting with an English speaker.”

To that, the more imposing of the two men said “We understand English. You can talk to us.”

“Well, I am very confused,” I started but I knew they would not be as sympathetic as a non-Chinese person so I did not goad them for sympathy. (Chinese people, as kind as they are, do not understand how difficult the language barrier is in the classroom. They always tell me to talk more simply.)
“My classes keep changing for parents’ day,” I continued. “First I was teaching with Celia now I am not. I am not sure what I am to do.”

Michelle my link teacher and my boss seemed to both give me disapproving looks. This may have been my imagination. The man, the imposing man, told me to just show me the lesson. This seemed very much like the sort of thing that an unwilling participant in a sword fight is told before swords are drawn. I looked to see if he had a sword. I did not see one, not one showing anyway. And, I am sure he looked to see if I had a sword. If I did perhaps have a sword on my person, I did not have it where he could see it.

Instead of drawing a sword, he told me the three principles of a lesson:
Pre – task, While –task, and Post –task. He was very kind. There was no sword, not even a knife or a straight razor.

Suddenly, I felt more relaxed. I told him we are currently reading descriptive essays in the text book. Friday will be the last day for this chapter. I would like to sum up what we have learned then. He told me that would be a good idea. Now, I felt much better.

After I decided what I was going to do, Celia gave her presentation. She had a slide show prepared. This was good but not that informative. He did not seem very impressed with it. Mary went last. She had the best attitude. She told him what she was going to do. She was very together. I was wiped out. She then showed him what she was going to do for her math class. He is just the consultant for the English classes. She did not hear him say he did not consult for math. She blazed on through.

Back at the teachers’ office, I told Mary her presentation was really fantastic. I thought she did an amazing job. She teaches the non-native speakers English. She told me she got her lesson plan out of the box. Her lesson plan was basically the Hamburger Helper of lesson plans. I laughed and told her the consultants were really impressed.

Now today, my boss has just told me, I have another lesson added for parents’ day. This is what I hate about this school. They do not do anything in advance. What would have been nice? What would have been nice is if I would have had a few weeks to prepare the drama kids for parents’ day. The powers that be have not afforded me that luxury.

She tells me this as I am retrieving the idea from the printer – cutting out a dog vest and sewing it - the idea that I have for the design class that is now not happening. Instead I have a design class on parents’ day with the 7th graders and I have not got anything prepared for them that day. In the 6th grade class, we have been talking about clothes. In the 7th grade class, we have not. My sixth grade reading class is starting as she is telling me this information. I do not lose my cool. I do not even flinch. I will make the best of it I decide. What I hate about parents’ day is the fact that it is just for looks. There is no substance involved.

Okay, I decide once I have left the classroom to talk to the 6th graders about what they want to do for parents’ day.

“Shut up for five minutes!” I yell at Oscar almost immediately. A few seconds later when I try to talk, Sooham says something stupid so I grab him by the neck and take him to the teachers’ office to talk to Athena. I tell her that he will not shut up. He is not being serious. I will not stand for it. She lets him have it, in a kind way, not the way she does with Oscar when she just hauls off and hits him like she did yesterday when she was walking by my drama class. I was in the back watching the boys present their play in the front. This involved kicking and hitting each other. Athena I saw looking in the room perplexed and slightly nervous. I walked up to the front of the class and opened the door and said one word.
“Oh,” She said and shook her head in understanding. As she was turning to leave, Oscar slammed the door. Of course, I yelled at Oscar and opened the door. At that time, Athena slugged him. Really, he needs to be beaten repeatedly each day and even that is really not enough.

Sooham and I come back class. He hangs his head as if he has been given 20 swats. All of the others look at him with pity and a slight bit of reverence. Oscar asks what happened. I tell Oscar I thought I told him to shut up.

He tells me I told him to shut up for five seconds I tell him I told him to shut up for five minutes. Now, everyone has settled down. We start to talk about parents’ day. I tell them we need to come up with some ideas. I say that maybe we could write a play. They are no help whatsoever. They do not want to be anything or do anything. Any idea I have they do not want to do. When I ask them what they want to do, they tell me they do not know. Sumran then decides she wants to be a farmer. Lilian will be the farmer’s helper. Kevin will be the narrator. Sooham will be a lynx. Oscar will be the hunter. Then Sumran decides she wants to be the narrator. We start writing the story which seems to involve Oscar killing a lot of things during the course of the play. Sumran now does not want to be the farmer. I ask her what she wants to be. She tells me she does not know.

This is such a mess. Sure, I could probably do some exercises or something with them but I have started down this road. Of course, I am sorry to say, I have one of my meltdowns while poor Sumran is being a typical whiny sixth grader. I ask her if she is trying to make it difficult or easier on me. I tell her I would rather be in the United States than sitting at a table with her. Sumran, I like, I swear I do, I do not know what comes over me.

Celia teaches the Language B English speakers while I am teaching the Language A. After class, I go ask Athena if she will tell the students we are going to write a play for parents’ day which is a few days a way. Athena goes into the classroom and explains it. Celia asks if she can stay in the classroom and watch.

After Athena explains what we are going to do for parents’ day, the students seem to be good sports about it. I ask them what kind of play they want to do. Lin wants it to be interesting. Sean wants it to be funny. I tell them this is good. We need to think of phrases to say in the play.

Vincent says “KFC.”
“Kentucky Fried Chicken,” Sean adds.
Teddy has his electronic translator out. He says something and then he shows it to me because he is very quiet. “Dripping acid.”

“I am a farmer,” Sumran says “not a businessman.”

During this whole exchange, I know that Celia is wondering what in the hell is going on.

“Queen Elizabeth is laying eggs,” Oscar shouts.

“We are not saying anything derogatory about the Queen in our play,” I say.

“The president is chasing chickens in the White House,” Sean says.

“Wow, that is really good” I tell him.

“Why does the cow have mud for milk?” Sumran asks.

“Oh, that is really good,” I tell her. “This can be a play about the environment.”

Secretly, I am thinking, I have this strange class of Becketts ready to be born

“The Beatles are eating hamburgers!” Sean shouts as if he is shouting Viva La France.

“That is perfect. That is the name of the play.” And I think to myself that is the name of this chapter of my life because, yes, I am the hamburger man.


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