Continued from here.
It was the right room alright. I stood outside of a locked door, behind which my schedule told me I should have begun class ten minutes earlier. I had no choice but to wait there where my co-teacher had shown me, alternating between examining my class schedule, the number above the door, and wondering if it was all a big elaborate game to mess with my mind. I had noticed that was becoming a trend whenever the school administration was involved.
I had no way to ask anyone if they knew where my class had been moved, nor would a teacher have known where I should be. Teachers and students lived in different worlds normally, even if they occupied the same classroom but from what I had seen in the halls, there were few teachers who lived in the same world as one another.
“Hello? Are you Casey?” a woman’s voice called in hesitant English. Obviously I was, she knew it, and she continued without waiting for me to answer. She waved a hand, gesturing me to follow. “Come with me.” Plans had changed without me knowing as I had heard they would. Relief flooded through me that someone was taking charge.
We walked quickly in silence. I only spoke English and she was not confident enough in her speaking ability (despite probably having been an English teacher at the school herself). I glanced at my watch; the time read 8:46. I was late, almost hopelessly. I wondered how long the classroom had been changed to an entirely new building and why I, as the teacher, had not been informed. The students obviously had.
I followed her down the three flights of stairs and up the three in the other building. My heart was racing as we walked onto the third floor past the dingy, footprint-covered walls. My unnamed assistant waved a hand, indicating to proceed through the thin wooden door that appeared to have been punched several times. A quiver of nervous exhilaration churned my stomach. After all, I was excited for my first day at a job which was unlike any I had performed before; it would be much more public and closely watched. I would be leading a class in just a few moments.
I had created my own lesson and reviewed it several times the night before as well as on the bus ride over that morning and it was simple enough. My goal was to get to know them and have them get to know me. It would be an entertaining, simple introduction lesson to have fun and get the students accustomed to a foreign presence. Nothing simpler than putting myself out there, I said to myself. Right? I steeled myself, put on my best smile, and pushed open the door.
Immediately, thirty six pairs of eyes locked on me. Several students giggled.
“Hello, class!” I spoke loudly, my grin still unforced.
The “hello” from thirty six mouths echoed my own exactly. Every unblinking shark’s eye met mine as they repeated, the tones and the duration of the word was mimicked exactly in higher girls’ voices.
“Sorry I was so late! How are you today?” I asked. It was more habit and nerves acting up than that I actually knew what I was saying. I saw them moving their mouths, not understanding, but still making the silent attempt to exactly imitate my apology. A handful of the mouths attached to those cold, unblinking shark-eyes were quick enough to deliver a memorized, “Fine, thank you, and you?”
My guide from earlier waved goodbye, shut the door, and disappeared back down the hallway without another word. The mood in class changed as would an unseen current under miles of ocean. It felt ominous.
“How about we start class? I will be your teacher. My name is Casey.”
Several students had picked up their cell phones from their desks and were typing what must have been very important messages. I was barely started with my introduction. I must have been boring them already. The smile slid from my face.
“Please get out a piece of paper. We have a lot to make up for after the delay. Don’t worry – this won’t be for a grade, they’re just questions for me to get to know you all.”
A girl stood in the second row and spoke loudly in Chinese. I did not understand. The class, including the girl, burst into raucous laughter. She sat immediately as if she would be camouflaged once she rejoined the others and I would forget on whom I should pin my humiliation. I felt like a fool.
“Since this is English class, I expect you to use only English. Only English!”
Several, for lack of a better word, cackled. Headphones went to ears and the three boys were already playing cards in the back. Several had lit cigarettes. My mind reeled. I felt a trickle down my cheek and my back was already covered in sweat.
An hour and a half later, I stomped through the disgusting, footprint-covered walls of the hallway. Truant, filthy boys jabbered insults and laughed with their friends after calling out “Halloo-what-are-you-a-doing?” I felt like black-bearing my way through the halls, swiping the smaller, weaker students and teachers out of my way with the anger of one who has been awoken from deep slumber. I was pissed.
In all my years of attending public school and substitute teaching in the States, I had never been so humiliated and infuriated. I felt as one who finds out his elderly grandmother has lost her life savings to a con artist with an insurance scam. I felt crazy and outraged. Those insolent teenagers! No wonder the class had been called Preschool Education English. I had been standing in front of over-sized preschoolers. I might have been young at twenty five, but by God, I was an adult and their teacher. Those stereotypes of polite, diligent Chinese students, silently hard-working, had failed me.
My blood pressure had only dropped slightly by the time I went to my next class. I came back from it in a much worse way.
In Casey’s next post, he will revisit three golden rays who redeemed an entire school of miscreants and how sometimes life mimics art in a bad way.