Friday, March 30, 2012

The Valiant Never Taste of Death but Once

Julius Caesar Theme #2: Politics is Personal

There's a war brewing between two homeroom teachers in the building that is none of my freaking business but I'm going to totally make it so.
In the one corner you've got "Turtle Lips," called thusly by her students because her Chinese name sounds...well,  Mandarin for turtle lips.  She's a econ teacher, smiles at me every day, is totally helpful and sweet, wears funny scarves tied around her neck, and always turns a blind eye when I run her kids out into the sunshine to play basketball.  She's got to be my favorite homeroom teacher in the school.
On the other hand we've got Princess.  Oh yes... that Princess... the homeroom teacher that I've written about on this blog many times...who has tried to get me fired, who lies to the parents about me, who interrupts my class without apologizing, spreads nasty rumours about me, and is a general pain in the neck to deal with.  Yes...these two are at war.
You see, both teach 9th grade homerooms and as the year ends, the pressure toward the National High School Entrance Exams becomes palpable.  You can cut the tension in the air with your teeth.  Students are stressed out to the max.  Kids crying in bathrooms, parents breathing down the school's neck, four to five practice mini-tests a's a madhouse.  Why anybody would put their 15 year old kid through this is a total mystery.  Yet, every year Taiwanese parents do.  And this year is no exception. 
The school's hands are tied.  New rules.  Unclear guidelines.  Pressure cooker steam coming out the collars of kids...and to make matters worse, the Taiwanese government gives our school one spot in the most prestigious high school in all of Taiwan.  One spot, to be given to the top performer in our school.  This kid gets to attend.  This kid gets his future set.  And oh yes, this year, that kid came from Turtle Lips' class.
Immediately, Princess called Turtle Lips a cheater.  Publicly.  She stood up at a staff meeting, while all the other Chinese teachers bowed their heads because they were too afraid to get involved, and announced to everyone that Turtle Lips must be a cheater because her husband works for the government and obviously supplied answers to her student, that this is how he succeeded.  Not because the boy is smart.  Not because the boy is a complete wizard in math and science.  Not because he's moral and has this mind capable of vast understanding...and certainly not because his Literature teacher over the last three years has been me!  No... this kid and his homeroom teacher, Turtle Lips... must be a cheating.
The principal of the school did nothing.  The other Taiwanese teachers did nothing.  The administrators who were present did nothing.  But Turtle Lips did.  She turned in her resignation.
You see, all Taiwanese teachers post grades, dozens of them in every possible subject.  Every kid has access to every other kids records.  Their tests, quizzes, homework, notes, national exam scores, and teacher's notes.  There are no secrets.  Zero confidentiality.  And Princess loves having the top student... WHY?  So that she can tell everyone that it is because of HER... oh, and she gets a small stipend for this as well.  So when another kid out-muscled her kid...(by .0017 %) and she went ballistic and turned on her friend of 13 years publicly calling her a cheat...and in so doing, attempting to invalidate my student's hard work, his test scores, and placement in the top high school in the country.  Can you believe that?  I mean, can you even believe the pettiness of that?
So what could I do?  What?  When Turtle Lips told me this I felt like the back of my head just exploded with a gunshot of spaghetti against the wall.
I know this kid.  I've taught him for three years.  He's no cheater.  In fact, he's pretty amazing.  Quiet. Strong.  Honorable... three months ago when Princess was trying to get me fired and I was ready to quit the school he wrote me a note...he said, "Teacher Brian.  Don't you quit.  If you quit, Princess will win."  How cool is that?  So I went to the director. I went to the administrators. I pleaded their case.  I told everybody I could.  I back-channeled.  I worked the system.  And today when I saw the kid with his trophy I felt a sense of relief... but it wasn't enough, because Princess has yet to apologize or be held accountable for her words.  The answer I got is between the homeroom teachers.  Everyone is just hoping it goes away.  But somethings never go away.  They don't.  They just burn brighter.  Even though no one talks about them anymore, they forever live inside us, and we carry them to our graves, and this is one.

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