Wednesday, 13 December 2006
UB Banjo Debut, and Hypocrisy
Wednesday 13th December
Drinking a can of Hite beer with a picture of a fearsome looking rap group/ overweight boy band called ‘guys666’ on it. They appear to mean business.
There’s an acoustic guitar in the staff room which one of the Mongolian teachers gets down and strums on from time to time. He strums through Beatles songs or 12 bar blues and indicated that I should bring my banjo in to school today (by pointing at me with a nod, miming strumming and asking “Yes?”). I did so, and we had a pretty good pick together in one of our free periods, he had no problem with the 'Worried Man Blues' and another teacher asked for 'Country Roads,' which impressed no end. I managed to fall in on a Mongolian song in A minor and we played a few others. I then proceeded to start teaching him 'Duelling Banjos,' which entirely undermines the past four years of my complaining about having to play it - but now I have it in mind to impress drunk American businessmen in the Great Khan. All very promising.
Earlier, in the first of my 4th grade classes I managed to last 10 minutes of trying to teach a very reluctant to study class, before offering that if they finished the present piece of work I would sing them a few songs. I guess it shows how much I am pining for an audience that I had to resort to bullying a bunch of 9 year olds into demanding that I play for them. I left the room for a minute to get the banjo and they were all, as threatened, sat quietly for my return. Gave them a brief history of the instrument of course and a run through ‘Foggy Mountain Breakdown,’ my playing given an extra bit of sparkle by the certain knowledge that this was the finest bit of banjo-picking they’d ever seen. Followed with ‘Oh Susanna,’ to which I chalked up the words on the blackboard. Of course, it was all part of a structured lesson plan: in the previous class we’d done the weather (“Yesterday it was snowing. It was very cold.”) so ‘The sun so hot I froze to death,’ was a great lyric to have the class sing along to. I say sing along - I considered changing key to suiting their voices etc., likewise the tempo to make it easier for them to follow the words, but decided that that would compromise the performance too much. Anyway, they enjoyed it, and I did too. I did get the class to help me write another nonsense weather verse, which I won’t reproduce here for copyright reasons. If only I could record them singing it, overdub some sleigh bells and release it in time for the Xmas no.1 spot. We even went on past the lunch bell without the kids scrambling for the door.
Later in the day I had a second 4th grade class. Some of them actually already knew the words to ‘Oh Susanna,’ or close enough to the words for Mongolia. Somehow though, I didn’t get the same buzz - until I got a request for ‘Old Macdonald Had A Farm’- which has a fine bluegrass pedigree, having been recorded by Flatt & Scruggs on their Carnegie Hall album. I undermined two weeks of building a stern disciplinarian persona for the class by jumping up and down and making farmyard noises to a host of animals/verses shouted out by the kids. Another teacher walked in at the end of the lesson and I made such a good impression that I was required to sing her a bunch of songs too.
At the end of school there was an English Department staff meeting. We had it whilst sat on the kiddie stools in the Disney Room. If that room is chosen to keep the meeting from running on and on then I’m glad we were only in there for two bloody hours. The subject was discipline in class; I suspect that the reason for the meaning was not so much to placate us non-Mongolian teachers regarding our concerns, but to make us consider not saying anything and just getting on with things in the future. It was most probably the meeting with the highest ‘number of things written on a blackboard’ to ‘actual decisions made or any kind of meaningful conclusion’ reached ratio discrepancy I have ever sat through. The gist was: just deal with it. I did manage to have a good say on the subject of discouraging the younger kids from associating the foreign teachers’ lessons with ‘having fun:’ a sad failing of so many of my predecessors, which has been a foundation of many of the problems later teachers have experienced. One thing about teaching, which anyone who knows me will have gathered from my tedious list of unacceptable behaviour in the classroom, is that I am really, really enjoying being an unashamed hypocrite. On which subject, I don’t allow my students to use “really, really” because “it’s crass.” Red line though the second "really" and a snidey comment every time.