Saturday, February 4, 2012

Bracing for Impact

Got called into the administrator’s office the day I left for Burma. Grades done. Exams in the books. Lesson plans for second semester finished. What’s the problem? There’s been a complaint against me again. My old nemesis, the Chinese homeroom teacher, is angry. She says I’ve been erasing the chalkboard when I use her room. That’s it, can you believe it? She actually went to an administrator and complained that I erase her homework assignments even though it’s MY class. The administrator asked me to STOP. The two of us, sitting in this little room, and she is telling me to STOP.
I tell the administrator that I’ve been teaching for 18 years. In all that time, not once, not once have I ever made a formal complaint against another teacher. Not once. But this year, this same Chinese teacher has made almost a dozen formal complaints against me, spread rumors about me to parents, fabricated stories, and openly analyzed and criticized me to the same students we share. Why?
The administrator had no answer. She just stared at the floor and wrung her hands and admitted… it is a tragedy, no tragedy is the wrong word…it is a shame, no shame is not right either… I just crossed my arms and looked at her. “This is what I want,” I tell the administrator, “next time that Chinese teacher complains about me, tell her to take an egg… and suck it!”
I got up and walked out of the room.
Today in Burma I wandered the streets of the Muslim Quarter in Yangon. I watched men get shaved on the street. Saw boys kicking soccer balls in the alley. Saw women in Burkahs and street hawkers selling sunglasses and stacks of remote controls, and ordinarily, when I pass through these streets, I am completely invisible.
But not today. Today everyone saw me. I was stared at, glared at, actions stopped as I walked by. Men dropped their screwdrivers and hammers and stood up from their machines as I passed. Workers stopped scooping cement and leaned on their shovels to sneer. Old men crushed their cigarettes and frowned at me. It was such an unusual day. I felt the whole time, as if I were a moment from being attacked.
Back at the school, I walked out of the office and crossed the street to Starbucks for a morning coffee. I was still steaming from the meeting with the administrator and just needed to relax. I order and move to the pick-up counter, and then here it comes. Door opens, guy steps in carrying a big bag over his shoulder. Typical Asian man. He’s looking around. Not paying attention to anything but himself. There’s plenty of room around me. I’ve been standing in the same spot for two minutes, and here he comes, right at my chest. He doesn’t see me. How could he see me? He is looking at everything but me, and we are going to collide.
The reason I was so angry with this administrator is two days before. This Chinese homeroom teacher and a parent have been teaming up to conspire against me and get me fired. Oh yes, once again. What is their problem? They don’t like that I’ve become too popular. That too many students like my class. As the second semester approaches and students prepare for the National Exam, the Chinese homeroom teacher wants to cut my classes in half to use that time to prepare for the test.
The students and parents have complained. They want to spend time with me. They find my class fun and useful. But the Chinese homeroom teacher wants that time because if her students perform well on the test she can take credit, and if they fail, she has made it CLEAR that it is my fault. Even though I have no idea what is on the National Exam, have not taught any subject about that in my curriculum, and in fact, the whole test is in Chinese.
So I was called into the office and told of this. That teachers and parents were spreading rumors about me again. So I asked if I could confront them? If I could meet these parents face to face? I was told, NO. This would be too embarrassing for the Chinese teacher and the parents because they don’t speak English. I was just to take it. Take it on the chin. The administrators were sorry, but that was all they could do.
So that morning standing in the coffee shop, with nothing around me but open space, I could have gotten out of the man’s way. I could have seen that he was an ignorant meathead idiot and heading right for me and just been a gentleman and stepped aside. But I decided against it. I braced for impact. I tightened the muscles in my chest and bent my knees, leaned in and at the moment that moronic, stone-headed buffoon looked up and finally saw me it was too late.  He didn't know what hit him.

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