Jinli Street, Chengdu
DIARY OF A MAD TEACHER
If this is Wednesday, it means that my internet ADSL has finally been hooked up. It’s the 4th week of classes, which means that I’ve been deprived on my own internet connection for 5 weeks now. I’ve checked email sporadically on the computer in the teachers’ lounge, but as far as writing blog posts, fuggeddaboudit.
Picture it: a classic scene, a textbook example of the class from hell. If I’d had my camera Tuesday afternoon I could have captured students in the throes of terminal boredom, brain death, not-giving-a-shitness, and complete disregard for educational or social conventions. I was perched on narrow table, facing my “class” of 4 students – the 5th was behind me at the front of the class, doing his own thing – gazing in wonder at this tableau: the student who was speaking had his fingers in a tent formation over his nose, giving his muffled voice a nasal whine; next to him a catatonic student was poised with his upper lip resting on the top of a water bottle, as if his head had stopped there on its way down to the desk. He was too lazy to either take a drink or move the bottle so he could comfortably have nap time. Not two feet from me, a female student sent endless text messages on her cell phone, oblivious that a class was taking place (or testing my patience), while her male companion rested his weary head on his folded arms on the desk. Earlier, I had taught them the phrase “It’s like pulling teeth,” as in “Getting you guys to talk is like….” as I mimed pulling a heavy rope with my hands. Then there were “Rivers” and “Rain,” two students who showed up for class for the first time this semester, then promptly departed after 30 minutes, ebbing and flowing from class as their watery names implied. The students are accomplished specimens of the fine art of looking like mental flatliners.
Fortunately, I only have two classes like this. Accepting the things I cannot change, I have chosen to adopt an Alfred E. Newman “What, me worry?” attitude, to go with the flow, and to generally let it all hang out. One time I actually had to tell the kids that they were boring ME to death.
All is not lost; I have some priceless tidbits to commit to writing, such as this one from the first week of class. I gave the students a 5-minute writing task, to summarize how they had spent the previous weekend. Those who actually had pen and paper (this is, like, a college-level CLASS, as in SCHOOL, duh) went busily to work. One student, using the pencil I had lent him, made some quick notes and stopped writing, having spilled his entire written oeuvre onto the page in 30 seconds. I wandered up and glanced at his short outline. “You should practice writing in complete sentences,” I advised him. His reply: “They’re complete in my mind.” Oh. Meantime, his friend next to him sported an orange T-shirt with blue lettering that said “You know you want me.”
In case I haven’t mentioned it (I’m too lazy to read my previous post), I’m in a new job at Sichuan University, across town and light years away from the quiet atmosphere of my former university. My 6th-floor apartment is now semi-painted, my sinuses are suffering this week from bad pollution, and each morning our building’s manager points a thermometer “gun” at our heads to register our temperature; the university must show due diligence in protecting both foreigners and students from the H1N1 virus.
Last weekend was a field trip to two local museums: the Jinsha Relics site, showing excavations from 2,500 years ago, and the new Sichuan Provincial Museum, a catch-all institution devoted to local culture and artworks. In between, of course, there was a delicious lunch. Everything looks better after food….
My goal in life: to survive until the October 1-8 National Holiday. More then.