14 Apr

My kids have been insane all week. They have spring fever or something…they’ve been hellions.

At first, I thought it was me. I’ve been struggling a bit–nothing major, but I’ve been in a bad mood for a few days. It’s a very normal kind of bad mood; I’m cranky and overly emotional, and I feel like this at home, too, every so often. But it’s easy for a very normal bad mood or bad day to seem magnified when you’re separated from all your normal coping mechanisms.

Every day, I walk down the road between my apartment and school and I pass the same baozi vendor who smiles at me, and the woman who sells strawberries out of a rickshaw, and the men who play mahjongg around a card table in the middle of the sidewalk. Most days, this walk feels bright and friendly, even though people stare and drivers swerve and honk and run you off the sidewalk at times. But when I’m not in a good mood, everything outside of my apartment door feels deeply unfamiliar and almost hostile.

That’s the mood I’ve been in for a few days, and I thought the kids were driving me nuts because of it. And I’m sure that was partially true.

(For example, On Wednesday I started teaching an Easter lesson plan, and the school made a huge deal about how they hoped I would make real Easter eggs to show the kids. It turned out to be a huge hassle because the light in my kitchen was out, and I can’t change the bulb without a repairman, so after tracking down eggs that were a light enough shade of brown to dye, I had to boil them by flashlight. But I finally ended up with 4 perfect Easter eggs…and then, the very first time I showed them to a class, the kids broke one of the eggs. They didn’t break it out of clumsiness, either; They broke it because they were being jerks. I was standing right there saying, “Wait, stop, don’t do that!” when it happened, and I had already warned them several times. When that egg broke, I legitimately had 2 seconds where I thought I might burst into tears. It wasn’t really the egg, of course…it was accumulated frustration. Things go wrong here all the time–it’s part of the experience of living and working in a foreign country–and most of the time, I shake it off. With a smile, even. But it’s like any other frustration or disappointment in life–you shake it off 9 times, and then the 10th time you break. My broken blue Easter egg was just too much, and I was already in a bad mood. I didn’t cry, and I didn’t yell. But I had to swallow both reactions back hard.)

Today, though, I was in a better mood, and I thought that would fix them problems I’ve been having with the students all week. I was wrong. My mood may have been a contributing factor to my crazy classes this week, but it wasn’t the only factor, because the kids were awful. In my first class they were so riotous that I stopped the lesson and made them sit in silence for the last 7 minutes.

In my second class, 15 minutes in to my lecture, this boy got out of his seat and started shoving and kicking a girl across the aisle. Before I could even react, he had knocked over not only her desk, but the two girls on the other side of her and their desks, as well. I had to physically pull him off her, and he scratched my arm up in the process.

It was nuts.

I have no idea what you’re supposed to do when junior high kids start fighting. I’m not sure if I should have physically restrained the boy or not, but in the moment, it didn’t feel like there was much choice. I wasn’t even really thinking so much about the girl he was shoving–I was worried about the girl at the end of the aisle who had been knocked down. She was on the floor crying, and her leg was all tangled up in the overturned desks. This is one of my largest classes, so I had 48 other students suddenly on their feet. Most of them were trying to help, but these classrooms aren’t really big enough for that many kids to be up and moving around, which is part of why the girls who were knocked over were having difficulty getting up–there’s just no room. I didn’t think she was going to get trampled or anything, but her leg was stuck, and I was worried that if the furniture continued to get shoved around so violently, her leg would get hurt.

The crash of the desks falling over alerted a nearby teacher that something was wrong, and she came running just in time to help me sort things out. This was a young class; as soon as the fight started they were way too overwhelmed to speak English, and they don’t understand me that well at the best of times, anyway. So I was glad to have a Chinese teacher there to help me regain control.

There were no fistfights in my other classes, thank god, but they were still rowdy.

In the end, I decided that the kids and I are obviously all in a bad mood together. They’re crazy and I’m cranky, and who knows if it’s something in the water, or spring fever, or the phase of the moon. All I know is that I have a 5 day break next week while the students sit their midterms, and I am REALLY looking forward to it.


4 Responses to “insanity”

  1. Kathy April 15, 2011 at 12:34 am #

    My last class yesterday was so terrible that we went for a walk in the hallway, that way if they acted out I could call for help better than being in the classroom,( like let’s walk towards the principals office ) plus the physical activity wore them out a bit!

    • Erin April 15, 2011 at 11:36 am #

      That sounds awful. But the “taking a walk” bit is creative! I hope Thursday was better!

  2. Cynthia April 16, 2011 at 12:21 am #

    It may not help to have someone say this, but you are feeling the perfectly normal part of culture shock where everything seems foreign/wrong/threatening. I remember feeling the same sitting under one of those old fashioned hair dryers in a salon in Chile and watching the stylist hack away at the unfortunate women in line – she hadn’t yet got to me… Hang in there and it will get better.

    As far as the students are concerned, perhaps the extra stress of exams coming up may have been affecting them. Your Chinese colleagues may have insights to that.

    • Erin April 17, 2011 at 8:53 pm #

      It *does* help to be reminded that what I’m feeling is normal. Thanks.

      I had the same thought about midterm stress affecting the students, although I haven’t been able to have an informative conversation with my colleagues. The most I got out of anyone at the school was, “Who knows why the students get crazy? Whatever you do, don’t beat them on the face.”

      If it’s midterms, at least it will be over soon!

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