For the Chinese government, June 4th is just another day of the year. For other Chinese, it’s a memorial day. For me, it was the first day of working as a Senior Teacher at a British-centered education company this year. I was hired to teach Maths and Science full-time.
During the second interview, I was given ten minutes to prepare a chemistry lesson. I read through photosynthesis and balancing chemical equations in a book that was provided, and I taught two of my future coworkers a lesson. One of them said she finally understood what it was all about now. The last time I taught a science class was in 2009. I’ve never taught math. During the negotiating process, I was told by my manager, Keep the Client Happy, not to tell my co-worker how much money I was going to make (after I was told how much he made) because he went to a ‘top English school’ and had been working (6 months) longer than me at this company. She also said she was doing me a favor giving me Saturday off because all teachers and staff members of the TE (Tuition Education) Department have to work on the weekends. I’d like to think it was on the strength of my experience and communication skills that got me what I wanted, but then I’d be leaving out the fact that KCH understood Saturdays are a sacred family day, and I am a man with a family living in a foreign country.
The other Senior Teacher certainly works a lot harder than I do. He thinks communism is the way of the future. Everyone knows he’s had terrible stomach problems since arriving in China. He mostly only eats bananas and keeps a small pharmacy on his desk.
One of my coworkers (the one who now understands photosynthesis) studied for a semester at the same undergraduate school I graduated from in 2006. She schedules my classes. Sometimes she is derelict in her duties. Today, after I was waiting about ten minutes for my student, I got the attention of another coworker who relayed the message to my fellow Binghamton Bearcat who was in a meeting. I was told the class had been cancelled. I asked when. I was told just this minute.
When the Bearcat has cramps, she tells Underpaid Pharmacist she’s on her period. He never offers her any medicine, and they both clutch their stomachs in some kind of shared, beautiful agony.
The CEO of my company, whose corner office is within breaking window distance, keeps pictures of himself with various British officials in one of the main meeting rooms where he hob-nobs with prospective clients. In that same room there’s an American two-dollar bill encased in glass. There’s also a large fish tank that bridges the space from that meeting room to the main entrance. The first two months I worked here there were silvery snowflakes hung on the wall above the tank. Other pictures around the office show happy students and helpful teachers in either the international schools run by this company or on some class trip to a mountain or lake. In his own office CEO has a massive desk, a huge Apple computer monitor, leather chairs and couch, and a lovely table on top of which lies a traditional Chinese tea ceremony. Small shelves of tea are here and there. He keeps a fish tank, books on management, a miniature F1 helmet, and newspaper clippings of himself with students on the wall. There’s also one picture with him standing in the middle of a boxing ring with two ring ladies (the ones who walk around in bikinis with a large card displaying the round number) on either side of him. The first time we talked I told him I had been in New York working towards my MFA in Playwriting. He told me I could maybe write ‘a little skit’ at the Christmas party, which would be ‘smashing.’ Indeed. A few weeks ago he showed up at a burlesque theater where I run the lights part-time, got drunk with his friend, and posed for pictures wearing shiny, purple shorts with a gold trim over his trousers that appeared from somewhere. This was after having gotten special attention from the star of the show, who wore next to nothing and spread her legs open about a meter and a half away from his face. Incidentally, two part-time teachers at my job are burlesque dancers in that show. When I had a complaint about scheduling problems in my department, I wrote to him and to his wife, as she is the Head of the Study Abroad apartment and sits in another corner office diagonally opposite his. She had the courtesy to reply. She also had the courtesy to make a donation (or at least tell me she would make one) to a charity that I suggested the company get involved in to aid the Syrian refugee crisis. On top of this, she personally bought a series of books that I suggested during a trip she made to London since the company’s library was lacking. I have her copy of Catch-22 on my desk.
I’ve had two line managers since I started. The first one was probably the most soft-spoken…no… the most incredibly inaudible manager, if not person, I’ve ever encountered. Bearcat told me he’s like this always. His glasses are also either perpetually foggy. Foggy Spectacles and K.C.H. had a verbal pissing match my first week. It had to do with who I was reporting to. The second week it got so heated I told Bearcat that if I’d known this was going to be the case I would have brought popcorn. She laughed. Foggy Spectacles was replaced by Mr. Robot and moved to the other side of the room. He took his course materials, text books and toys with him. Mr. Robot would say, “Well, fellas, goodnight,” his first week of leaving. It was always me and two girls at that hour. He once asked me about my progress reports. During the conversation I was dreaming about Office Space and overlaying Lundberg’s character on him because at least Lundberg had a personality. I remember hearing something about the length of my reports, how much time I spent on them, and if I would consider using another format that was longer and more convoluted from my point of view. Mr. Robot left, and my progress reports have remained unchanged. Yesterday he got married to a CPU named Cici.
My coworkers discuss me in Chinese while I’m sitting at my desk. Sometimes they turn to look at me when they say my name. I think it’s about schedules, but I can never be too sure. At one point, I started wearing my hair up in a bun since I haven’t had a haircut since New Year’s Eve 2013 and felt like trying something new. K.C.H commented how weird it was, then joked about me changing it, then asked me when I was going to change it. I asked her when she was going to change hers. The next day, she came in with semi-curls and different lipstick. My hair was still in a bun, sans lipstick. I asked when she was really going to change it. She smiled and walked away. We haven’t spoken about my hair since.
Every so often I notice a baby cockroach on my desk, or maybe it’s one of several baby cockroaches that take turns coming out for some fresh air. Several papers are taped together covering a hole in the ceiling just a little ways away from being directly above me. The window shades are perpetually drawn closed because, despite there being so much flora throughout the office, these plants are apparently partial to fluorescent lights. Bearcat sometimes keeps a large electric bug zapper on under her desk. I hear *ZAP* every now and again.
The teaching rooms are of varying size, shape, and comfort as not all of them have fans or air conditioning, nor do they all have white boards and functioning markers. The rooms have such names as Harvard, Columbia, Stanford and MIT. The walls are clear, half-inch thick glass with sliding doors that don’t all close smoothly. One of them requires a good amount of force to close it. There is no set schedule for who gets what room, which means Underpaid Pharmacist and I could be stuck with hot, stuffy, small rooms while a part-time teacher who comes in twice a week gets the Rolls Royce of teaching spaces: Oxford, which has its own water cooler and a Swedish-made air filter outside it’s sliding glass door.
Every so often all the teachers need to go to the floor below us to teach in different office spaces because inspectors come through our company checking everyone’s paperwork. All foreign teachers-Senior and part-time- are not allowed to legally teach on the premises because our work visas and residence permits are linked to an international school that is in another city, and for teachers to teach on these premises a special certification is required that the company has not yet obtained. I was told during my onboarding that everything done here is legal because they don’t want trouble with the government. The coffee downstairs is better, and the open window shades make for a pleasant work environment.
My students have ranged in age from ten to seventeen, and in subject from basic grammar to advanced biology. Worried Scientist is taking his SAT II Bio Subject M test in early November; Sprightly Swiss was interested in watching a horse dissection that was aimed at understanding how they harness power naturally; Meek Mike’s brain turned to jelly when we examined the importance of circles in all mathematics; Brave New World needed help preparing for a series of interviews with schools overseas, and so on. These, for the most part, have been my sources of fulfillment the last four and a half months.
One of my students- Happy Willie- picked up a coffee mug with the company logo on it this morning and said, "I'm a teacher!” I’m teaching him chemistry this week. He asked me if an atom could be the size of the white board. I said no. Then he drew increasingly small circles with the one good marker we had in Oxford, still asking if any of them could be the size of an atom. I kept telling him no. Then he said, “Well, maybe in a different universe they could be this size.” I told him yes, in a different universe many things are possible.
In a different universe with a job I enjoyed, I probably wouldn’t have time to write this blog, build and update my website, produce two plays in New York (including rewriting, co-designing artwork, compiling show programs and assuming PR duties), work on new play ideas, place online casting notices, or read and write my online graduate school homework. I’m working towards an IB Teacher Award Certificate 1 and a Masters of Education over the next year and a half or so. I think I could be a fine teacher one day.
When I phoned KCH last week and told her I was resigning, she was hardly surprised. She passed the phone to Mr. Robot who asked me when I had come to this decision. I told him I’d gotten the notice while I was on vacation (two weeks paid, as contractually agreed upon). He told me okay. I promptly sent the official letter, and they replied that they “are hoping to keep in contact with [me] for possible cooperation opportunities in the future.”