Tuesday, May 15, 2007

On Fridays, the other teachers throw pies at me…

Months have passed. As if I am time traveling, the days - like little comets of time bursting into minutes, hours, days - whiz by dizzying and unstoppable. Somehow, strangely, I find myself set down in the middle of Shanghai like Dorothy’s house. By the time I click my heels and go back to the States for a visit, I will have been in China for over a year and a half.

Although I am still surprised daily by my surroundings, now I am hardly ever shocked. Refrigerators, stacks of caged hens, bamboo scaffolding, all of this being transported on bicycles no longer phases me. As if Dorothy would have settled down in munchkin land, these are now all common occurrences. What first seemed so otherwordly and bizarre is now common and everyday. The language I still do not understand, I liken it to backward masking. Whether I understand the underlying messages or not, really, is not important. If there's a bustle in your hedgegrow don't be alarmed now...

Maybe now is the time to take stock of all that I have learned while I have been here sober and over the rainbow. Maybe it is that time. Maybe. I have quite a bit to analyze, quite a bit. I do think I have grown or whatever you want to call it. I have learned a lot about myself. I have learned I am fairly adept at putting oversized 14 year old boys into headlocks. I try to visualize Dorothy putting one of the troublesome trio from the Lollipop Guild into a headlock and I cannot. Her pigtails flying. Toto barking and nipping at lollipops.

I know without a doubt that the struggles I have gone through that have led me to my present situation were worth it, well worth it. The school where I am now teaching, I love. The other teachers are all wonderful. Two days a week, two other foreigners come to teach oral English. One of them is from America and the other is from Britain. Both of them are very good at what they do and seem to be very good people as well. I enjoy them both.

Yes, I feel less like Travis Bickle at the moment. My meltdowns are now in a metaphysical jar resting near the physical mummified body of Mao. I am meltdown free.

Of course, there are still some hurdles which I face. At the moment, I have approximately 450 students that are supposed to receive grades which I am not sure quite how to accomplish this. Each student has a number. I have tried to grade them by number but that does not work that well. If the students were each automatons, this would be easy but they are not. I have to take into account that many of them scrawl their numbers on their homework. So not only do I have to mark their homework, at the same time I have to decipher the number that has been scrawled. Sometimes, I have multiples of the same number. Recently, a few students told me that they have no number. Yes, this is a bit of a nightmare but at least I do not have kids chasing each other with box cutters like at the old school.

Whenever the old school comes to mind, I say a prayer of thanks that I am no longer part of that nightmare. Percy the terrible is no longer part of my life. I can move on happily. I can putter in my garden stress - and Percy – free.

Yes, I do miss Jacky and Sooham and Kevin and the eighth grade boys, especially William but my life is immeasurably better now. As I said, I have retired my meltdowns. They are resting besides Mao’s mummy. Even when I get angry, I do not melt.

Yes, of course, I do still get annoyed with some of the students. This is just part of the job. Some of them do homework for other classes in my class. Yes, I do understand this. They are home-worked to death! The boys in a few of the classes drive me to the verge of a meltdown but now I have learned to get happy instead of angry which is very Mickey Rooney of me. Why this is very Mickey Rooney of me I cannot say.

I have perfected the ‘you’re breaking my heart’ song and dance that I used on the eighth grade boys at the old school. It goes something like this:

Unsuspecting male student does not realize I am leaning over his desk looking over his shoulder while he is working on other homework which is usually math homework. (Chinese math is as hard as they say from what I can see by looking over shoulders.) The student is in math world. His deskmate bumps his arm to get his attention which gives him a start. He looks at me sheepishly and puts the homework away and proceeds to look over whatever homework I have given. At first, this appeased me but then I thought I should practice for the new Welcome Back Kotter which I am a shoe-in – I feel – if it is ever remade, remodeled.

So in true more Tyson than Kotter fashion, I tell said student it is like he is stabbing me in the heart. Usually, to emphasize the point, I say stabbing at least 3 or 4 times and I hit myself violently in the chest as if I am stabbing myself. Usually, by this time, the student is fairly wide eyed, the deskmate stifling a giggle. If the deskmate is at the verge of laughter I go on. Yes, I love an audience. This is my time to shine.

“It is like you are jerking my heart out of my rib cage and stomping on it.” I cry to the student as I throw my invisible heart on the ground and start stomping on it.

Sometimes, I add that I do not sleep at night. I stay awake all night worried that I am not teaching them. The only reason I have been set on this earth is to teach them. If I am not teaching them, I have failed as a human being. This is a very dramatic moment. A place never imagined on Room 222.

I tell the student the other teachers make fun of me because I have failed as an English teacher. Today, I told a student that on Fridays the other teachers throw pies at me. Naturally, the student that I chose has no clue what has hit him. His deskmate by the end of the diatribe is usually laughing so hard that he is close to tears. The student who receives my ribbing is usually in shock trying to sort out fact from fiction. Yes, this is much more amusing than a meltdown. Like Saki, romance is my specialty.