The Chinese Class Revolt

March 15, 2011
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When emotional breakdowns happen in school, they’re usually quite embarrassing and humiliating, both for the person having the breakdown and for those watching. But like a car wreck, you want to turn away, but you just can’t. The cause is usually very silly, some stupid drama or a case of hearsay or “he said, she said”. The stress and pressures of having to keep up with one’s social life! Oh, the stress!

But what happens when the stress has been caused by the amount of homework? Well, then, welcome to the IB Academy! Where the motto is “IB therefore IBS”, the students are at the mercy of the teachers, and the teachers are at the mercy of the International Baccalaureate curriculum.

The students of the dictator-like regime of education are subjected to stress and homework. But, mostly homework. If an IB student’s sleep patterns were graphed similarly to an EKG graph, it would be a straight line. This is also indicative of the principal’s heart rate. The odd thing about IB is that when you become a freshman, they pile the homework on you like an avalanche. They seem to want to test the students and see who could actually work and survive at this school. If IB were an island, the story of our lives would be Lord of the Flies. They want to see if we can succeed. Or they want to kill us. No one is completely sure, but that usually happens when you reach junior year.

After the shock and horror of freshman year, sophomore year, in comparison, is easier. But the amount of homework fluctuates, both in amount and difficulty; from almost nothing to an amount that could stack up to Mount Sinai and have Moses pause and stop reading the slabs of stone he carried. It seems that the teachers, when assigning this work, are as bipolar in terms of how to deal with it, as the biology teacher Ms. Ali is. One moment you’ll barely have anything and you’ll fall over because your backpack is so light, and then another moment your backpack will be filled with three textbooks, mounds of paper, pencils, a calculator, lunch, and your soul nowhere to be found.

But, the test really comes when you reach junior and senior year. You slide with sophomore year because you’ve gotten used to the work, but junior year is a monster in its own right. One student remarked, “My mother had to wake me up because I had been starting at the computer screen for so many hours.” It’s not worth trying to figure out time for a social life. Your social life is school. And school turns into hell. And from there, not much changes in senior year, except your need to get the hell out of the building.

Those who survive freshman year should be glad. Sophomore year is significantly easier, but if you were having emotional breakdowns then, you have almost no prayer in returning junior year, or even finishing sophomore year. But, I wish thee luck in finishing.

One student in particular is subject to emotional breakdowns. Suffering from stress Joanna has trouble dealing with homework. This isn’t to say she’s a bad student or stupid, as a matter of fact, she’s fairly bright and fun. Her problem doesn’t even lay in the difficulties of time management, an important part of going to IBA. No, her problem is calming the freak down. In her freshman year, one could see her crying at least once every three weeks, always in gym for some reason. Not really having a fit per se, but the amount of work and the strenuous curriculum were weighing down on her. She felt, it seemed, as if the staff were in competent and someone, for the sheer joy of spite, had dropped an unreasonably large suitcase of homework and school upon her back, which she could simply not deal with.

Her breakdowns were of the spectacular sense. Without warning, she would burst into tears, her face turning red as an apple, and her voice would reach sonic decibels; the kind of tone only dolphins can interpret. She would jump up and down in stress, much like a five year old whose candy had been taken away, which caused her almost overtly large chest to bounce up and down. One would fear that if you got in the way, your tooth would be knocked out. Then she would sit down, trying to control herself, which ended up being in earnest. She would start weeping again.

As sad and mildly pathetic as it is, this was freshman year. Yes, the work was certainly not easy, but if she was barely surviving as a freshman, one could only predict the storm that was to come. “Hurricane Joanna is headed toward the tennis courts, so be prepared.”

It wasn’t out of control, exactly, but it certainly was not in control. Math was what was bringing her down, as was Chinese. While one cannot exactly blame her for struggling by the end of the year during math, for we had a less than satisfactory substitute (whose visage is comparable to a penguin), Chinese was all up to the student.

Language, as in most schools, is a sink or swim learning experience. Either you understand how to process and translate new words into the words you already knew, or you don’t. Some lack this capability, and while they understand how to pronounce the words themselves, they cannot make the connection to make these words into the ones they knew beforehand. The old joke is that if you’re trilingual, you speak three languages; if you’re bilingual, you speak two languages; and if you speak one language, you are American. Though, that isn’t reflective of the population entirely. You just have to walk down the street to hear someone swear at you in Spanish. And one only has to get cut off for the other person to show their knowledge of the international sign language for saying “f*** you”.

Chinese is completely different from any of the romance languages, the languages one usually learns in school, such as how to hit on people and say sexy things like “Can I buy you a drink?” and “I wake up at 5:30 in the morning” in French and Spanish. Chinese involves the impossible pronunciation of what is called “pinyin”. Pinyin is an impossible pronunciation guide. Pinyin is the guide on how to pronounce Chinese characters. Chinese characters are these labyrinthine letters that represent words. So, think about this for a moment. One has to, while learning this Godforsaken language, connect the character to the Pinyin, and then connect the Pinyin to the English word. Too much work? You can’t call the people struggling with the language stupid by any means if the entire government of China changed thousands and thousands of characters to make them look simpler than they were before. The difference is “traditional Chinese characters” and “simplified”. The fact that this had to be done is telling.

Two and a half weeks into sophomore year and so far the work load is fine. It’s at a happy medium. We are getting a quiz on a few characters every other day. And this has pushed Joanna over the edge. Breaking down on her yoga mat, she heaves and huffs, smoke exiting her nostrils like a dragon. The tears stream down from her eyes like a rain shower. Her face is ruddy and her eyes are red. Had you not dealt with this 70 times last year, you would pity her. But now anyone who sees her just wants to slap her and shut her up. Speculation on her ability to survive IB goes around, while, regardless of how irked they are, they gather around her and offer comforting words. Complaining that the teacher has not set a good enough or respectable enough routine and has not given us a syllabus, she rants about the incompetence of not only the teacher but also of the staff. The guidance counselor does nothing; the principal does nothing; her tutors aren’t helping. Everything seems for the worst here. But it has only to get worse. She wants our teacher fired.

As aforementioned, the teacher has been giving us quizzes on a few characters every other day. This gives us little time to study, especially when stacked up against our other work, like Advanced Placement World History. APWH is like a plutonium bomb in your backpack; you know when you’re carrying it around. However, everyone seems to be doing a mediocre job in Chinese. The teacher, a nice, if hard to understand, woman named Lang, is concerned. Her objective for the day was to ask if we were having trouble, and if we were having difficulties, what with. She approaches the subject quite well, making a fine introduction to our less than spectacular marks on the papers, all the while maintaining a meaningful look. It’s sort of like we were in a relationship with her and something was off, so she wants to talk about where the relationship is going. Every mannerism and facial expression does nothing but accentuate this illustrious and completely unrealistic scenario.

With those words of concern, an uproar in the class erupts. The class was divided, as if it were the Civil War. Half (mostly those on the left side of the room) were complaining or politely explaining about the difficulty of Chinese and writing the characters, the other half were telling the first half to stop complaining. Lang, working on nothing but the scores, made the small mistake of making a generalized statement, which sounded along the lines of, “Well, it seems that you are not studying enough…” Through her thick accent , the teacher did her best to enunciate properly, which sounded more off.

This generalized statement caused Joanna to go into a panic attack mode, or emotional breakdown mode, or simply whiny mode. Asking if she could go retrieve her flash cards, she walked out of the room in a huff, ready to burst. Meanwhile, a student who is quite infamous for having an attitude that would cause a drill sergeant to have an aneurysm bellowed her opinion on the difficulty on learning the language and her wish to transfer to Spanish.
I commend Lang, as she is called, for trying to give us hope for the future of our studies in IB Chinese. She did her best to give us a pep talk. She gave examples of the choices we could have in life. But it went downhill after the first three minutes, after she began to only make the future situation much worse. Admitting that the IB exam was so difficult that her children couldn’t even do it, the class started up again, almost erupting into a riot.

When these children would erupt in complaints, there were two people who would always fire, unnecessarily back. Quentin and Perry would fire back shots at the left side of the room, refuting their loud and annoying complaints with unasked for comments like, “Well, if you just did the work…”, “Stop complaining, we’re going to have to do it anyways”, and “I’m doing fine, you people should stop complaining.” The Loud Mouth would cut them off mid-sentence with, “DID I ASK FOR YOUR OPINION?” and before either one could answer, shouted, “NO, I THOUGHT NOT.” She would plow on with whatever she was saying with a bellowing, “ANYWAYS, …”

There were only a few quiet people, including a pretty red head named Stefani. She merely sulked back, embarrassed to be in the room, cringing at every back and forth jab between Quentin and the Loud Mouth or wincing at the shots taken at Mrs. Lang by Joanna. It was as she were ashamed at the commotion and just wanted to curl up in a ball and pretend to be invisible.

After a few minutes, Joanna came back into the room, her face red and her forehead shining with sweat. She had a thick stack of flashcards with various Chinese words written on them. She nearly slammed them down on her joint desk, which she shared with James. She started jabbering about how it was unfair that she studied and yet Lang was, according to her, making the illegitimate accusation that she, Joanna, did not spend her time studying Chinese, regardless of her tutor. She was crying, and continued ranting with statements like “you don’t give us a syllabus”, “you’re a lousy teacher”, “I can’t learn Chinese”, and “you should be helping me”. Oddly enough, her statements were completely discernable, but it did not fail to shock and irk most of the class. While those who didn’t enjoy Chinese one bit, the loud mouth included, we were stunned at the gall this girl had.

It would have been more predictable had the Loud Mouth taken this measure, though without crying about it. The Loud Mouth was infamous for her back talk, incessant questions, incessant need to preface her question with bellowing “QUESTION!” much like Dwight on The Office, and for upsetting teachers. The previous year, she was taken out of the class for a time out and a “talk” seventeen times….in a week. But even she was taken aback.

The class ended on a low note, for Joanna had finally stopped shouting and was laying her face down on the desk sobbing. We scurried out of the room, a little disturbed by both the revolt of half the class against Lang and the outspokenness of one of our classmates.

Later in the day, I don’t know when, but she said she was determined to get the Chinese teacher fired. It was unfair both to the students who liked her and to the teacher herself. She wasn’t horrible. Not great, by any means, but certainly not a travesty in the history of teaching. The next day, Joanna seemed unusually happy, especially after the fiasco that had happened. When my friend Quentin asked why she was so ecstatic, she only gave the slightly enigmatic and distressing answer, “Some things I had problems with have been resolved.”

When pressed for more, she only beamed. Quentin asked, “You didn’t get Mrs. Lang fired, did you?”

She smirked, almost maliciously, and said in an annoyingly exaggerated tone, “Mayyybe…maybeeee not.”

Based on previous cases of reporting a teacher to be fired, the odds are likely that Mrs. Lang will stay at the school. The gym teacher from last year had been reported for pedophilia (but not for his simple stupidity), after he had been seen taking pictures of the girls in swimsuits with his iPhone so unstealthily. He had an obvious erection during the swim season. He looked down female students’ shirts. Horrifying as it is, he was not fired. Mr. Ring, though, resigned from his post. He lives in infamy, for his constant malapropisms, mispronunciations, overall lack of intelligence, and his wandering eyes.

We have yet to know what the results of Joanna’s actions are. We hope nothing will happen. Nothing needs to happen; just she needs to get control over her own life. However hard this language is, we still like our teacher. Our teacher has what we fail to be able to write: character.





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