December 5, 2006 - Guyuan, China
A Passionate Calling
Make no mistake, it’s universal.
Faculty members don’t relish attending faculty meetings.
At Yi Zhong the meetings ramble on with a Castro-esque quality. We get speeches by leaders, and the leaders’ leaders. Speeches by party members. Speeches about test results. Speeches about motivation students to become “model pupils.” Speeches listing teachers names. Speeches about past speeches.
That might be a stretch, but I don’t understand most of them, so I’m not lying per se.
Frankly? I don’t mind them. Granted, if they had more relevance to me - as in, understood them - or they meant more work for me, they might not be so bearable. But, as it stands, they are little more than long winded study sessions. Study sessions in the sense that they bore they rest of my colleagues and friends to tears - so much so that they’d rather teach me. This isn’t to say the meetings don’t come with consequences though.
Faculty meetings usually sneak up on me.
I grab my class plans and head for the office door and somebody usually calls after me, off-handedly mentioning that classes are canceled and we have a speech to attend, in the tone of how-could-I-possibly-not-know. We walk outside as a group - these English teachers stick together. Issuing from the buildings around the school-yard, a stream of trudging teachers - a collective sigh following them - shuffles toward the meeting hall and into their assigned seats like so many dejected ants.
That’s where the benefits of being a first-year teacher come into play. No assigned seats for us newbies. We stake off a group of seats near the back - oh so rebellious, I know - and dig in for the long haul. Up on the stage a bustle of technicians stringing cables and dropping water bottles.
The main assembly hall stage bristles with giant desk-sized military-green speakers and swaying spotlights - the better to catch every nuanced word of encouragement and sweat-strained brow behind the podium. Rows of red draped tables with matching glasses of water, the glowing red lights of mics turned on and black institutional chairs complete the Party atmosphere.
Main event? Endurance speaking.
Like clockwork, I get an elbow poke in the ribs.
Not more than five minutes from sitting down, usually within seconds of my sitting down I get the elbow signal and a nod in the direction of a small figure from the other side of the auditorium.
Mr. Passion approaches.
That’s right. Mr. Passion. Mention him by that to any teacher at Yi Zhong, especially the English teachers, and you get quite the chuckle at my expense. Mr. Passion has a wonderful habit of playing Allister-seeking missile.
With a puff of down jacket Mr. Passion plops himself down next to me and promptly leans three-quarters of the way over into my seat. I’ll go on about personal space some other time, but for now let’s leave it at the fact that I have none - at least none that anybody recognizes. Craning his neck towards me, nestling his arm onto my armrest and with and ear-to-ear grin he bellows,
“YOU HAD IT COMING!”
I guess I did but I saw it coming…
The other teachers around me snicker - for them a funny little dance has started - and I smile, nod and mumble a hello. His lungs take control again,
“HELLO TEACHER ALLISTER!”
I wonder where his volume knob is, playing over a little daydream of turning it to -10 and knocking it off with a hammer.
“TODAY I AM QUITE PASSIONATE ABOUT ENGLISH!”
You sure are buddy, you sure are. My crew of teachers break out into open laughter. If I so much a bring my face in his direction I’m met with a utterance,
“I CAUGHT YOU RED-HANDED!”
This continues ad infinitum until the meeting finishes. Random phrase, surrounding laughter, my forced smile and words of encouragement. I awkwardly swivel in my seat to face the other direction to which he responds by wiggling in closer to me. No worries about being cold as I have my own seat warmer. Fortunately he doesn’t mind perusing the pocket-edition phrasebooks he must have picked up at Acme Nutjobs Language School as I desperately try to talk to the other teachers around me.
Which brings me to why I don’t really mind the meetings so much. The other teachers find the events unfolding on the stage so dreadfully unimportant that they text furiously with their cell-phones and find enjoyment in teaching me little bits of Chinese.
Gossip about the headmaster. Smack about the History department. Minutia of the local Guyuanhua accent.
How could a meeting possibly be bad when I learn the Mandarin for sneeze, burp, snore, fart and puke in one sitting?
You had it coming! that cracks me up for some reason, chap!
That would crack you up. Chap.
And you have it comin'!
O, super project. Yes!