Friday, February 26, 2010

I always ended up on all fours, like a cat

I think it should be clear by now that I'm really cool. I’m not trying to brag; I’m just saying that if I were a teacher in an American high school television dramedy, my students would call me Jon or Mr. W instead of my last name. I would call on students by tossing them a nerf football. Sometimes my essay prompts would contains curse words. That sort of thing.

So if you know me, and you know how cool I am, what happened in class today should not be at all surprising.

I need to give some quick background: the Senior 2 students are divided into 11 classes, each of which has 60 students. 60 students is way too many for an Oral English class, so I take half and Gus takes half. Last semester, the way it worked is that I taught the students in their actual classroom, and the other half went to the Language Lab to see Gus. This semester, we switched positions so that I do my teaching in the language lab.

The two things that you need to know about the language lab are:

  1. It’s an unfamiliar space, so I’m still sort of getting my bearings up on the lecture platform.

  2. Since it’s a high tech language lab, it contains a lot of very expensive electronic equipment.

Again, if you know me, and you know how cool I am, you know this can only end one way, viz., coolly.

I’m in the middle of lecture. My computer is on the desk, hooked up to the projector. Next to it is a Nalgene bottle full of water. The top is off.

I ask a student a question about the picture on the projector, and my plan is to take a drink of water while she’s answering the question. So in the middle of asking her about the difference between luge and skeleton, I reach across to my water bottle while keeping my eyes on her (basketball fans: this is the high school teacher’s version of the no-look pass, and just as impressive) and, cool as you please, casually knock the water bottle over.

Water starts spilling everywhere and one of the students in the front row screams. I tell the student to keep answering the question while I pick up my computer, which is sitting right in a puddle of the water. I can’t put the computer on the ground because the projector cord isn’t long enough, so I have to rest it on my right shoulder. At this point I believe it is still possible to salvage my cool teacher vibe. (“No worries, guys, Mr. W’s got this shit covered. Who’s got the nerf?”) But then I see that the water is on its way toward the big electronic terminal that controls the recording software that the language lab uses, and so with the hand not balancing my computer on my shoulder I grab the only paper I have available, which is a copy of the class roster, and use it to furiously wipe the tsunami (Too soon? Phuket.) away from the electronics and onto the floor.

At this point I’m feeling pretty cool so I toss the roster into the trashcan 4 feet away (swish!), make a luge-related joke, and then reach up with my left hand to advance the powerpoint while the computer is still resting on my shoulder. But it begins to fall. The student in the front row screams again. I manage to grab it and end up balancing it on top of the still dry electronics panel.

And then it seems like everything’s fine, until I start to hear a weird sound. I look down and the water from the table is dripping onto the floor, right onto the power strip that everything in the room is connected to. I remember thinking, well, that’s probably not good. And then the power goes out.

Not the lights, but the air conditioning, the projector, and all of the little lights on the table in front of me. This is a troubling development. I think the studets have begun to feel sorry for me. One student in the front row (next to the screamer) takes out a pocket pack of tissues and places it gingerly on the desk in front of me and gives a little grimace-smile that says, I used to think you were cool, Mr. W, but not anymore.

This means that for the rest of the class I have to narrate my powerpoint like a storybook by holding my laptop out in front of me and slowly rotating it from side to side so that everyone in the class can see. By the end of the period my arms really hurt and I do not think my students have managed to retain any new Olympics-related vocabulary. After the bell rings the front row student comes up to my desk. He says, “I’m goign to take these back now,” and grabs his pocket tissues and walks out the door.

After class I talked to one of the people in the control/surveillance room. (Yes, we have a surveillance room at our school. China!) He got me a new power strip (which I still don’t know how to say in Chinese) and then had to reset the main power supply for that cluster of language classrooms, but in the end there was no lasting damage, except to my fragile, fragile ego. But that was already wounded when, during a discussion of ice hockey earlier in the day, one student asked me, “Jon, have you ever played ice hockey?” Another student immediately answered, “Of course not! To play ice hockey you must be strong.”