World Class

197

I. Substitute Teaching

In America, acting is frowned on.
People are looking for passion.
People want to know how much you care.
They expect burn-out.

Two years of hard work is all anyone can manage.
You give your all; you’ll be a star.
They want you to put yourself at their mercy.
Then crash and burn.
Everyone understands.

The students in turn will do nothing. It’s not expected.
Students are praised for being born. They want a prize.
They want to be rewarded for living.
They want to be thanked for coming.
They’d prefer to be paid.

Your job is not to act like a teacher, but to be a friend.
If they don’t like you, you’ll be blamed.
If you just act like a friend, the kids will laugh.
Even the Principal will advise against your trying to be a teacher.

Teachers, after all, make and enforce rules. Your success
will be measured by your willingness to make exceptions.
Waive the rules. Overlook the cheating. Pass those who are failing. Teachers who act like teachers are hated.

Act like a teacher, and the students will turn on you.
You’ll do best to pretend. Act like a student. You’re one of them. You too are a kid. You too smoke pot. You too like porn. You too have a tattoo. Be cool. Show the boys and girls you’re real. Open your pants. Do handstands. Now you’re cooking. You’ll get the hang of it.
Believe it or not, they pay you to act the fool.
Smile. Say you’re sorry. You’ll be fine…for a time.

II. Kabuki Lessons

Japanese praise role-playing above all else.
If the teacher acts like a teacher, and looks like a teacher,
he is deemed to be a teacher. Dress the part. Polish your shoes. Students take their cue from the act. If you act like a teacher, they will in turn act like students.

This has nothing to do with teaching, of course,
and nothing to do with learning. The act is the outcome.
The performance is what is rated, not the applause.
There are no gods of caring. Passion is frowned upon.
You’re expected to come in everyday for the duration of your career.

That’s what teachers do. Caring too much is seen as a sign of malfeasance, a possible illness. You can teach your heart out, but if you leave early, they’ll call you lazy.
Interference is a form of molestation. You don’t call the parents when daughter forgets her homework. You don’t call the police if she comes in with bruises. You mind your own business.

People will wonder why you care, and she better not be cute. If you talk to the boys, they’ll figure you’re a homo. They’ll be concerned. Stand back, and do your job. Your job is to go through the motions. Attend commencement, accept flowers at graduation, smile.

Don’t laugh or cry, that’s not professional.
Look busy; you don’t have to do anything.
Don’t complain. Don’t offer suggestions for improvements.
Don’t talk about student needs. Come in at 7 and leave after 5. You’ll do fine. Don’t whine.

Prepare to be surprised: My top engineering student aged 19 asked me why all Americans eat McDonald’s, breakfast, lunch and dinner, seven days a week. “Don’t you get tired of eating the same thing?” “Do you have fish in your rivers?” “Have you ever eaten rice?” Tell them you’re dying to try. Smile.

III. Great Wall of China

And then there’s China, our “enemy.” I’ve taught there, too. They come to class looking for escape from the State.

They are sick of fake news. At the same time, they’re doing college math in 6th grade. They’re easily bored. They read Jane Austin in English.

Their favorite movie is “Roman Holiday” with Audrey Hepburn. They figure you know something. Of course, they value kindness and patience.

They value excitement most of all, challenge, being asked to work harder. They are willing to pull all-nighters every day of the year.

They’ll assume you’re easy because you’re lazy.
They won’t like you for doing nothing. In fact,
they’ll hate you.

They like passion. It’s a novelty. They like to be scared. They love Japanese horror movies.

They don’t think being stupid is funny.
They associate ignorance with hunger not with laughter.

They’re ambitious. They want to know why you gave them a 98 and not a 99. They won’t be willing to let it go.
They’re eager-beavers.

They think government propaganda is boring,
But they want most of all to die for their country.

They’re in a struggle to become number one.
They want to take over. They’re desperate to win, I’d say.

They figure you’ve come to the right place to teach.
China is hot.

IV. Chalk Dust and Sand

What about the Arabs, you ask. Yes, I once taught in Saudi Arabia.
This is very difficult to answer. Arab males I know, not females. Never met one.
The boys are willing to study but would prefer to wheel and deal. “My average,” one lad said, “may be 67, but, teacher, my friend, I’ll need 80 to pass. For me, just this time, won’t you help?”

If you say no, he will excuse himself and walk away.
If you say yes, he will kiss your feet and promise life-long loyalty. In either case, he will forget all about it in less than a minute. If you get the reputation for never bending, they will say you black-hearted. If you get the reputation of always bending, they will call you a fool.

Somehow or other, your goal is to be known for having a white soul.
For Arabs, they’ll respect your brain, but they’ll love your heart. Justice means nothing to them; they want mercy. They won’t ask you to be fair. They will beg you for a favor. There is no such thing as rules in the desert,
just love. They want you to love them and, if you do, they will love you back.

It is in my experience very easy to love them, but it is not easy to teach them. Here are a few tips: Don’t ask them what they want. Their reply will be, “As you like, teacher. Suit yourself” Deciding is your job, not theirs.
They won’t give input. They don’t want responsibility.
They know nothing of democracy. They don’t want to vote.

They assume you know what you are doing. If you don’t, they’ll complain. It’s not manly to grovel, to seek cooperation. Fathers don’t do that. The King doesn’t ask permission; he wouldn’t stoop to it. It’ll be tough
if you are an American, but you’ll have to act like a man. You decide. They’ll ask why, but the answer can be “because I said so.”

They know no fear. You can’t threaten them. You have little to give and little they want. But they’ll study to make you happy. They’ll study for their mothers.
They’ll ask if you like them, but they’ll already know the answer. They are hyper-sensitive like rattle-snakes. They’ll feel your pain. “Teacher,” one boy said to me,
“if you cry, we will cry.” They are sly like a fox. They’ll give you a lot to cry about.

They will obey or not. Deal with it. At a deep, deep level, nothing really matters. They know that God doesn’t care much about such things. At some level, they think nothing matters. They’ll submit to God but not to you.
They’ll skip their finals to visit a friend in hospital with an ingrown toenail. They are the opposite of ambitious. They’d happily pay a Filipino to do their work.

They’d happily bribe you to give them an “A.” Your job is to survive somehow without becoming resentful. I wouldn’t call it education as such; I’d call it training. Whatever happens, you’ll be blamed. You’ll be praised
for nothing. There’s very little Arabs expect from Infidels. They figure you have little to give. After 6 years, I concluded they were right.

Image Credit:Jeff Hitchcock
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David Lohrey grew up in Memphis. He graduated from U.C., Berkeley. His plays have appeared throughout Europe. They are available online at Proplay (CA). His poetry can be found at Terror House, Otoliths, and Tuck Magazine. His fiction can be read at Dodging the Rain, Crack the Spine, and Literally Stories. Machiavelli’s Backyard, David’s first collection of poetry, appeared in August, 2017. He lives in Tokyo.
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