March 14, 2013
Writing about teaching night class instead of "The Big Male"
Somehow, I ended up teaching in South Florida instead of the rural north. Times and conditions change, and that's a fact. Instead of an area that seemed never changing, now I faced every day an area that never stayed the same. I was teaching students from all over the world. That was driven home to me the first week on the new job when I saw a student wearing a tee shirt that had printed on it a communist slogan. I asked him where he got such a shirt, and he said he got it in Moscow, where he was born. Many of the students were bi and tri lingual, includng one wonderful student whose dad was from Brazil and whose mother was from China. That student was fluent in Chinese, English, and Portuguese. He was a good deal smarter than I was.
I volunteered to teach a class at night. These were young adults who had recently arrived from Haiti. They attended irregularly, their presence depending on their work schedules and transportation to the classroom. But once they were there, they were unfailingly cleerful and smiling, willing to learn. They referred to me simply as "Teacher," never as "Mrs. Lynch." If we could sing it to the tune of "You Are My Sunshine," they could learn it. As usual, I noticed that new arrivals to this country learned at a rate of speed faster than normal. After about three years, they would slow down, probably becoming as lazy as those of us who were born here. But these young people were far more musical than any others I had ever taught. They quickly voiced an objection to our national anthem. It was, they said, too hard to sing. Haiti's anthem was better. Well, I had already noticed that Australia had a better anthem than ours --- it's hard to beat old "Waltzing Matilda" -- so now I invited them to sing theirs, and they were right; theirs was better, musically speaking, easier to sing.
One evening, Jean Pierre was missing from the class. When I asked his closest buddy where he was, why he wasn't there, the fellow seemed a bit embarrassed. "He not here," he replied. "Yes, I notice that," I said, "but why isn't he here. Is he sick of something?" His friend didn't want to answer. Finally, he said, "Today, he go to work. But he fuck up."
Oh, cruel world. Here such a short time and already some knave had taught the word "fuck" to this cheerful face! "Now, look here. We don't use the word "fuck" around women and children. It isn't polite." I delivered a mini sermon about that word. How it was something men used in a locker room, maybe, or on the football field or soccer field or in the heat of a fight -- and the class was locked in on me, held by my intensity. "But he did, he did," replied the owner of this new word. "He did, he fuck up there." Did you not hear me, did you not? I heaped a little scorn on the fire. I repeated my insistence that this word "fuck" was a big offensive thing. Now the speaker of the word was flustered and confused. "But he did, he did," he kept insisting. "He lose everything he eat."
What? What? "Are you trying to say 'Up Chuck'?" The light bulb came on. "Are you trying to say he up-chucked the food he ate? That he got sick?" "Yes, Yes, Yes! That what he did!"
There was a lull, an all-too short moment when the class was turning all this over in their minds. OK, that took care of "up chuck" --- now, about this new word "fuck" --- what did that word mean that was so offensive. Explain, teacher, about that word.
Time to sing a new explanation. Try putting that to music, folks.