Tuesday, September 23, 2008

General loopiness

Today was my first day back at work with the loopy professor. I was prepared. I had a flexible lesson plan and all the materials I needed to teach either just my own class or both our classes combined. She has sprung that surprise on me before, apparently thinking that genius gaijin teachers like myself can instantly come up with a lesson plan suitable for forty students after preparing to teach twenty. And while I will admit to occasional genius moments in the classroom, I certainly cannot produce them on demand. (Also, I have fairly frequent dumb moments, too, although I advertise those less widely.)

So today I was ready for anything. Or at least I THOUGHT I was ready for anything. I should have remembered that it is not just my boss at that place who is loopy. The entire bloody place is loopy.

It started when the loopy professor appeared in the teachers' room and welcomed me back. I gave her the little present I'd bought for her in Malaysia. I had bought this because every time she goes to some conference abroad she brings me something useless, and I thought I should reciprocate. I should probably explain how this happens, so that you can get an idea of how surprised I was when I gave her the present.

It usually goes like this. She wafts into the teachers' room, and tells me what a marvelous time she had at her conference, and all about the Very Important People she met, and then hands over her present. She tells me to open it. I do, and thank her. She assures me it is nothing at all, and gazes at me expectantly, so I thank her again and comment on how wonderful the present is. She looks delighted at my pleasure at receiving this unique and interesting key ring (or whatever it is), and continues to gaze expectantly, so I gush a bit longer about how thoughtful she is and it's just what I needed and how beautiful it is and how did she know? After a few minutes of this she leaves, satisfied.

Today, when she asked me about my vacation, I told her I'd been to Malaysia, and gave her the little present. I told her, the way you're supposed to, that it was nothing really, just a little thing.

"Thank you," she said, taking it and instantly dropping it into her voluminous bag. It vanished from sight. She had barely glanced at it.

While I was still gaping and wondering if that was the most unsatisfactory gift-giving experience I'd ever had, and also wondering if she would come across my carefully chosen gift one day a few years from now and wonder what it was and where it came from, she told me, sadly,

"One of our students has retired."

Apparently our 'retiring' student was the only thing that would fit in her mind at that moment.

But that was not what I started out to tell you. I was not going to tell you about the loopy professor. I was going to tell you about the loopy office.

When the loopy professor had finally finished telling me about the student (who had quit university rather than been blessed with an unusually early retirement, perhaps after a moment of clear thinking), I was five minutes late for class. (But that was all right, because so was my boss.) I hurried up to the classroom, and discovered that not only were my students waiting for me, so were hers, outside my classroom.

"Sensei! Sensei!" they called excitedly as I approached down the corridor. "Are we all together again today?"

"I don't think so," I said. "Er ... did Professor Loopy tell you to come here?"

"No," they said. "She isn't there. There's another class in our classroom, with a different teacher."

"Oh," I said. "Um ... come in, sit down, and I'll find out what's going on."

I went back to the other classroom and peeked through the door. Sure enough, there was a different professor in there, lecturing a bunch of bored-looking students. There was no sign of the loopy professor.

I went back to the elevator and waited. Sure enough, a couple of minutes later the doors opened and she stepped out.

I told her what had happened.

"Eh?" she said.

The upshot was that I had both classes for the first forty minutes while she went over to the office to find out what had happened and to get another classroom assigned. Then her students went off to the new classroom, and I had only my class for the last fifty minutes.

Remember my wonderful lesson plan, flexible enough to cope with either twenty students or forty? Having to suddenly adapt it to use for half a class period with forty students and the other half with twenty was an interesting (and not very successful) experience.

(It turned out that the office had mysteriously decided to assign one of our classrooms to a different teacher, and neglected to inform either us or our students.)

After that it was lunchtime. I went down to the river to relax a little and have my lunch. After eating, while I was wandering along the little path following a butterfly, I accidentally kicked a rather large snake. It was one of those sorts of days, possibly for the snake as well, which seemed more surprised than I was.

I had two more classes after lunch. The first one held no surprises aside from the ear-splitting screams of happy welcome when I walked in the door. I have no idea why that class likes me so much. It is my most difficult and tiring class of the week, and I can't say I'm particularly fond of them. They never listen. They never shut up, although they usually apologize (and immediately start screeching again) whenever I cringe and cover my ears, which is often. They never show any inclination to learn anything. I end every class with my ears ringing from the noise, and have had to cultivate a zombie-like calm to deal with them. Nothing else works. (Actually the zombie thing doesn't work either, but at least it prevents me from being climbing the walls or resorting to drugs.)

In other words, everything went normally in the only class I would have liked to have been a little different for a change. My lesson plan did not work very well, but it worked as well as anything ever does with that lot.

Before the last class, the teacher who has the other half of it told me that she had finally been given the official class lists for our two groups of students, and discovered that the way we'd split the class into two was different from the way the office had done it. Previously, they had only given us one list, and we had split the class ourselves, the most logical way – straight down the middle with nineteen in each group. But the way they did it was apparently random, with twenty-one students in one group and seventeen in the other, and not in the same order as the original list.

And, she told me, they insisted that we had to do it their way in the second semester. We had been doing it WRONG. This meant that five students from one class had to move to the other, and seven had to go the other way. Also, the lists I had so carefully typed up for each class on my spreadsheet program, the attendance and grading sheets from these I printed out over the weekend, AND the name cards which I'd numbered according to where the students were on those lists, all have to be changed.

It also meant that we spent the first twenty minutes or so of the last class moving students around and generally having a messy and annoying time trying to sort out where everybody was supposed to be. Some students did not want to move. They had made friends in the first semester, and we were separating them. Waaaah! Normally fairly cooperative and sweet, they became a little sulky, blaming us. But apparently it is more convenient for the office to move students around unnecessarily, disrupt classes, create paperwork for teachers, destroy trees, and generally be illogical, than to go into their computer and change their lists to something more sensible (or to give us the 'correct' lists at the beginning of the year).

And, of course, my lesson plan was too long. I had not prepared for sixty minutes. I had prepared for ninety.

Unfortunately, today's experiences have not taught me anything useful about how to prepare for first day classes at that place. The only thing I learned was that no matter how many contingencies I prepare for, I will be confronted with something completely different. I also learned that if you kick a snake on a day like today, it somehow doesn't feel quite as surprising as it normally would.

When I came home The Man had a question for me.

"When dogs pees on a lamppost, do you say they are addressing the lamppost?" he asked.

"Pardon?" I said. "Do you mean when they mark their territory?"

"Yes," he said. "Can you say they are 'addressing' their territory?"

"No," I said. "At least, I don't think so, anyway. Why?"

He looked disappointed.

"Oh, no reason, really," he said. "I just thought maybe you could call it an IP address."

That probably shouldn't have cheered me up as much as it did.


Keera Ann Fox said...

Wow, things really are loopy! The Man's pun cheered me up, too. And I hope the snake's OK.