Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Chinese chinese coffee, chinese

Chinese, chinese, chinese, point at random, chinese chinese, repeat an option, chinese, coffee. My ordering procedure for tea, coffee, or just about anything, could use a little work. I have never in my life had so poor of an idea what is happening.
This is profoundly true, eerily true. I don't know what is going on with teaching. Some people have mastered it, I am learning. I have no idea what is going on with traffic, ditto. Ditto with Chinese. Ditto with everything. If it is something in my life right now, I have no idea what is going on.
This has had some very peculiar results. For one thing, I am not afraid of anything. I have not felt nervous once this entire time. I don't have the luxury of being nervous. I don't ride a scooter, I don't get around. If I don't teach, I get fired. My buying apprehension is gone, as most things i have bought, I have to buy, either for necessity or for my sanity.
I have always considered sanity a certain amount of self-consciousness. By that standard, which I will have to rewrite, I think i may be crazy. The simple reason is that things are just on play. I love that feeling. Perhaps I should not, perhaps I should hate it. But that feeling like I am on roller coaster tracks is one of my favorites.
Things tend to go well, because I am working out the small things. If you are constantly doing the small things, the be big things fall int o place. I will get into a good law school, not because I made a few important large decisions, but I made thousands, maybe millions, of little decisions. Study tonight, study tomorrow, get an AQ, move towards law school. That is riding on the tracks in a different way. Now it seems like there are less profound decisions. I simply had to stop and get a coffee today, otherwise, I might have gone crazy.
i could have struggled through the Chinese involved, but i knew I did not have that sort of time. So I pointed at random, as I have done with other purchases, and things worked out. I got, actually, the exact thing I would have ordered if I had been able to say it, a sweet but strong ice coffee. The odds of that, literally, were one in 26. That said, I would have been okay with whatever I got, thats living on the tracks.
What decisions I do have I attach an inordinate amount of importance to. I make them quickly, but I stick to them. Today I got a helmet for the scooters, which I am not riding, though not driving, regularly. There was a specific helmet I wanted, and got, there was none other that had any other real sway. This is making up my life. Taking the decisions I can make, such as avoiding at all costs wearing the horrible rain coats popular here, as very serious decisions.
When I overplay a video-game, I start thinking in terms of that game. Say I play a game where you are limited to a range of motion to the four basic directions. I will think in terms of "I am going forward, backwards, left or right." If I do something, I feel my mind press the corresponding button. This used to happen to me when I was young, now I simply have not played a game quiet that much. However, when I do, take Resident Evil 4, the same thing happens (I realize this is of no literary merit, but again, some is staying, most is going).
Anyway, teaching has had a similar effect. I am finally laying down the law. Today, the first half was boring, but good. I had them doing what I wanted them to do, people were good, and it was shockingly boring at points. The second half of the class was actually much better. I had a great second half.
For the first time a kid called all my bluffs, and he got it, he got it good. I did not honestly think it would happen, and I was not sure what I would do. Luckily, it was the right kid for the job. It was not Jonathan, who I respect the most (don't read like the most, respect the most), it was Sam.
Sam is the big kid. He is a crier, he cries. I am just now realizing how badly he does so. He almost remains in a constant state of pout. He will just sit there, and be verge of tears for no apparent reason. Though I do think I know the reason. Parents. It seemed like too easy of an answer to me to say that parents have the biggest responsibility for how a child turns out. Although I considered that true, I do think society should do something. I still think that is true, but in a different way. Society should do something, but really, it is only covering for the damage done tby bad parents.
There are exceptions, huge exceptions. I can think of plenty of great parents with bad kids. Blame it on a bad dice roll of emotions I guess. That said, it seems like it is normally the parents. Andy, the bi polar child, comes from an abusive home. At least that is what I more often here, and it is hard to believe otherwise. His brother has very similar problems.
Sam's problem is pressure. The problem is that I don't know if it is an inordinate sort of pressure. That said, he came to my class today with a load of homework for other classes. In some cases I let him work on it, other times I did not. However, it was clear he was very worried about getting it done. I guess after my class, he must go to another school. I don't know how unusual that is. I know that one of my favorites (yeah I said it, what?), Winnie, goes to an evening math class, though I don't believe every day. Sam had all kinds of homework, from English, to math, to Chinese.
That said, it is not my job to cater to that. I simply can't, and I won't. Again, I am not sure exactly how bad it is, but it seems that sam cries about everything. Today, he was behind a girl in a tussle of sorts (she was playing with a friend). He basically snuck up behind her (not maliciously, but he wanted to play). The girl stood up at the wrong time and conked him on the chin. However, the impact did not even deserve the word conk. It was more of a nudge, maybe not even that. I could use all sorts of understatement to get at how light this was, but needless to say, a flea's breath would be a close rival.
Yet Sam started to pout, and was clearly trying his best to cry. He wanted to cry very very badly. So he did as much as he could muster. Yesterday I coddled him. He is such a big dude, I would say "you are a strong guy" and try to level with him. I thought if I came off that he was being cool in my eyes by not being a sissy it would be okay. This time, I really drew the line. I forgot what I said, but it had the sympathetic tone of "deal" (though somewhat more nicely put).
So anyway, Sam was pouting as Sam does, and would not come into the group of kids that were lined up. He was intent on being far from the group and whine his heart-out. Earlier, I had nearly murdered every boy in my class. I got the shaft when it comes to the boys in the class. The class was infamous for the boys, and today they were at their worst. During the singing portion of the class, Sophia (my assistant teacher, more on her later), was used extensively. Before she was involved, I tried everything to calm them down. However, based on the structure of the play they were studying for, it is not that easy.
So Sam simply refused to go forward, and I did not know why he was pouty this time (I did not care either). So I did "Sam, come join the circle." He did not, so I did my serious "Sam, join the circle." He said no and shook his head. Then I did my wrath of Teacher Matthew voice, which had not failed me at that point. I am surprised by it myself, but I can muster some kind of true sharpness when needed. Leave it to be said, I would do what I said. I think it is constructed by using every negative moment of forensics combined with all the yelling of forensics. Plus, my add had a wrath of Dad voice that could knock me on my ass (very deservedly).
Anyway, to my surprise, he still refused. So I did the punishment I had been warming up to do for some time. Take him to teacher Sally's class (which Andy had done earlier in the day, but that is because Andy is crazy and I needed help, it was not a threat so much as Sally saving me). So I told him to go to Sally's class, and he refused to do that. Apparently, don't fuck with me.
I ended up grabbing by the leg, and dragging his Cartman sized butt to the other classroom (that sentence will definitely be rephrased for any sort of serious literature of course). He was screaming and crying the whole way (I had been told by a fellow teacher to not worry about this, and was prepared for that). I pulled him, literally, into Sally's class, which had to have been absolutely mortifying for him.
That said, he really needed it. Sally spoke to him saying that he was not even crying, which was true, and that he was a big kid. Coming from another teacher, in front of strange kids, really changes the tone of the message. I left him in that class for ten or fifteen minutes before I got him back, and he was good for the rest of the day. We bonded over reading time (which was probably the best "period" I have had at the school)) and he was okay. After that, the boys listened and cared. Not in a terrified manner, but they knew that when push came to shove, I was not affraid.
Perhaps I will look back on the whole incident as the worst moment in my teaching career, but I doubt that. The fact was that it probably changed the whole dynamic of the class, if not my own mind. I know great teachers who have done the same. Perhaps the true greats never have to stoop to that level, but damn it, I am a novice, go to learn, and try.
Part of the reason my thoughts on the class are so desperate is that I really got the shaft as far as the class. That, or I got the best possible class possible. There is a good chance that this may be the hardest class I will ever have at this school. Those seem like words to regret, but I think they may prove true.
For once, I am picking up mid stream for another teacher. Teacher Gina is a great teacher, but that is part of the problem. These kids are going from ten years of experience to zero, and they can smell blood. The boys are nightmares together. Andy is this constant negative influence, and he riles up people. Jonathan is the boys. I like Jonathan, I really do, but he owns the boys (and the girls in many ways). If Jonathan is chilled out, the class is chilled out. That is the rule more than any other.
Jonathan is strangely charismatic, its very easy to picture these kids as high school students. He is the popular kid. The girls love him, the boys respect him. The problem, is he is not that smart at English. Perhaps he is amazing in other subjects, but I think social skills are his main tool box. The problem is that when he is crazy, he gets all the boys going. Once the boys are going, I can either focus on the boys, or the class. If I cut the rest of the class loose, anarchy ensues, which amplifies the problem with the boys, despite my attention. Thus, my only real choice is to stay focused on the class and draw for straws controlling the boys.
That is where teacher Sophia is great. She will gladly kick their lilly asses. If she was in the classroom the whole time, the class would be like wondrous clock work. The Chinese teacher in all other classes is there all the time. Unfortunately, SOphia is the accountant. It is a very unhappy coincidence that I ended up with the one class that had the most experienced teacher, the hardest to control dynamic, an a rarely present assistant teacher. Thus, it has been made clear to me that I don't have to do great things, just keep the class there, and I am doing that. However, it is a hell of an introduction. Sophia is great when she is there, but 9 times out of 10, its just me, (well, in a way, me and Sally considering I run to her every two periods or so, all the teachers are great).
My reading period, as I mentioned, was great, I listened to some of the students that need the most attention. I had Sam read to me. And more importantly, I had Jonathan read a very long thing to me. If you remove all of the people away from Jonathan, he is forced to be a sweet little boy. I tried to level with him, and told him that I would like him to be more clam for me and everything. I emphasize that I think he is a sweet guy, but he just needs to be good. He said he would be tomorrow, but I am not delusional enough to think that he really will be. However, he revealed his weakness. He wants stickers next to his name. He wants them bad. He pointed to a sticker chart at the end and said that when he was good, teacher Gina gave him a sticker. He said it with such wistfulness in his voice that it blew me away. Here I hyped up this kid's rationality and charisma to an alarming degree, and he just wanted a sticker.
I didn't realize, or think of this, because it is stilly hitting me how profoundly effected kids are by the most abstract and silly social constructs. A sticker? I mean honestly. When I was a kid, I used to think such stuff was crap. Sure, I drank the kool-aid, but I did it so cynically. I vaguely remember promising myself to never do the counting thing, "you have ten seconds to..." I always though that was so silly. I would do it, but I would have done it anyway, right?
When I started this job, I planned on avoiding counting. I saw teachers do it, and thought "how could they do that more than once.?" When they get to zero and the kids have not done anything, it will never work again. So when it was time to move on, I would just say "okay, get your books." No one would move. So I sad "get your books now." No one would move. Some would move, but enough would stay behind that the others were pressured to do nothing. "Okay, you have ten seconds to get your book and sit down, 10, 9" and the little SOBs were flying around the room getting their books and getting ready.
I still try to avoid the counting method, but its a hell of a lot better than making a fool of myself. I know that soon I will be counting virtually constantly. I wonder, if someone yelled at me, "You have 31,536,000 seconds to learn Chinese, master a scooter, get a girlfriend, learn martial arts, write two books, get into law school, and enjoy every second; 31,535,999, 31,535,998, 31,535,997..."

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