Friday, June 21, 2013

My Job Is Cooler Than Yours

I'm sorry, but it's true: my job is cooler than yours.

It’s not simply because of the obvious things, like when students pretend to have some important issue to talk about while the rest of the students get a cake and candles together for your surprise birthday party, or when a super quiet kid e-mails you on the crappiest morning of the week and says, “Mr. Haggar, you looked not happy yesterday, so here are two of my favorite jokes to make you smile,” or when a kid makes a wild photo-shopped video of you and your celebrity crush in each others’ arms.

It’s the small things.

It’s when a kid sends you an e-mail entitled “Culture Trip Pictures” like you asked but then sends another e-mail a bit later entitled “Bonus Pictures.” Or when an eighth grader asks if your Indonesian girlfriend’s English is any good but before you can answer, gives his impersonation of what he thinks she sounds like (“Hallo how var you Haggar Reuben?”). Or when boys start writing the absolutely stupid nicknames that you’ve given them in class on their assignments and tests. “Glen” turns into “Glennery.” “Kevin Su” turns into “K-Su” and then “Bear-Su” because the class is reading a book called “Bearstone.” It’s when you are walking home past Hualian Mall and a snowball comes whizzing by you, or you are walking down the road and some eleventh grade boy yells, “Hey, baby!” from the back of a taxi, or, when you include the question “How has your day been?” on the top of an assignment, a kid writes that the whole day has sucked until English class. Or when you walk by some Korean kids who don’t even know English in the hall and they all see you and yell, “Yankees!” Or when some skinny girl from your homeroom comes and seeks you out in the bustling teacher’s lounge to give you the rest of the birthday cake that her friends bought her for her birthday because they couldn’t finish that crap. Or – this one is a little weird, but I felt like the man when it happened – you grab a note that you see getting passed in class and look at it and see that it is, perplexingly, a list of all the Major League Baseball teams and the kid – a girl – says, “Don’t take it! I am missing one team! I can’t figure out which one it is! It’s driving me crazy!” and you look at it for nine seconds and say, “the Colorado Rockies” and she flips out: “Oh, my God! How did you know that? You are my hero!” It’s when kids have to draw pictures of someone they know in art class and someone chooses to draw you. It’s when a kid has to make something in pottery class and for some reason decides to make the logo – in color – of your favorite baseball team, the one from across the sea. It’s when a student texts you in the middle of the summer to tell you that Anne Hathaway just won some acting award but that she also has a new haircut and it doesn’t look as good as before. It’s when you have a secret bow ‘n’ handshake routine with a kid that happens even if both you and he are in mid-conversation with even the sexiest of vixens.

It’s true that the education world – especially at an IB school – comes with loads of paperwork, miscommunication, technology problems, frustrations from administration, stacks of papers to mark, recommendation letters to write, and weird coworkers. And those things suck, and they make life hard. But then you storm into your homeroom, seething at the world, at the printer, at that wench who never texted you back after last night’s date, at the Mercedes driver who felt that you were in his way on the sidewalk and honked at you to move, at Mike Pelfrey and his ungodly ERA…there is redemption. From a bunch of teenagers. Underachieving, awkward, video game addicts who don’t even always look up when you say their names or understand the language of instruction in every – or any - class. Who don't even know how to log into the school's grading platform. Who haven't been on time to class in a fortnight. Who you can see copying each other's “Of Mice and Men” homework from here.

They make my job cooler than yours.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Community and Service

At the beginning of this school year, in August 2012, I accepted the responsibility of overseeing my school's volunteer program, a program called "Community and Service" (C&S). I knew absolutely nothing about the program or the requirements, despite having worked at the school the year before. 

Basically, each student in sixth through tenth grade has to complete between three and five volunteering activities each school year. The activities ranged from recycling bottles to being a time-keeper at a forensics tournament to teaching English to children in Qinghai Province. And everything in between. 

As I understood it, my job was to make sure students were aware of what they had to do and to document who completed which activities. The latter was merely a matter of going onto the school's online platform - Managebac - and tediously searching through everyone's volunteer project history for the year. The former...could take any form. I did some presentations, made some announcements, and sent a lot of e-mails, but the mode of communication that appealed a lot to me was making videos.

For a while, on Friday of each week, I made a video highlighting a unique or interesting activity that a student had done. Then the videos were shown during the morning announcements to the students.  At first it was fun, after a while it got to be a burden, and after our culture trips, I stopped making them completely. The videos were intentionally very formulaic; an example - the first-ever C&S Weekly Update video - can be seen here. There are many others posted on my school's media server. Like the fake snow one made with Mr. Fleming.

Last week I picked it up again. The deadline for completing all C&S activities (do the activity, write a reflection, receive approval for the reflection) is this Friday, June 21, so I thought I could use the format I'd been using to death and make a video announcement about the deadline. The video is below. I hope it works. Not, like, "works" as in you can watch it..."works" as in, persuades students to finish C&S for the year!

Monday, June 10, 2013


So there we were. Mike Moravec and I. At dinner in the D.C. at Bethel University.

Did you think that this post would be about Nasty Nate? It was a trick.

Mike, my best friend from college, looked across the table from where he'd finished eating many hours ago to me, where I sat, still working hard on my bowl of cheese and chili, and asked, "Why do you even keep in touch with Nasty Nate?"

Nasty Nate. Who didn't even have a sweet story to explain his nomenclature - apparently I am the only who still calls him Nasty. With whom I ran cross country and played basketball and bet on baseball. With whom I’d done the pool challenge and worked naked in the Kanaranzi well field and knocked down a light pole. With whom I’d meandered through rain and snow. With whom I’d dyed my hair yellow. Whom I’d never beaten in Golden Eye on Nintendo 64. The other Central Lyon Class of ’04 boy living abroad. The friend I’ve had the longest.

Mike continued, "You’ll never live in the same place together again."

Shut up. Let me finish my chili.

But, it was quite possibly true. Nasty Nate and I lived many hours apart when these words were spoken, in Cedar Falls, Iowa, and in St. Paul, Minnesota, respectively, and the following years saw us drift further physically, to Los Angeles and Michigan, and then to Ibiza and Seoul, and then – gasp – to Mallorca and Beijing. 5,549 miles, 8,931 kilometers apart.

The question lingered. Though we continued e-mailing every few weeks and Skyping every few months...why continue to be in touch? What was the purpose? Was the relationship still growing, still going somewhere? Why continue to invest in it?

On May 7, at 5:30 in the morning, reason arrived in Beijing to answer the question, "Why?"

So we could smash up a baseball game together, he commanding one half of my students, and I the other, throwing awful fastballs, mowing down children, yelling smack talk, disgracing seventh graders who didn’t know their strikes from their balls, exchanging amused yet hostile glances, and experiencing plays at the plate – plays decided by the mere millimeters separated the gloved ball from my frantically-sliding leg – I was safe! – that would leave members of the crowd in cardiac arrest. And student players arguing for days. Swing.

So we could conduct a cooking class for dummies in my kitchen, a kitchen that gets used only in the direst of situations, or if there is a cup noodle sale at Hualian. Notes were taken, learning happened, a scrumptious meal – not the last – emerged, and then got shared with friends and foes alike at a nearby dinner party. Come get it while it’s hot.

So we could burn down a KTV only nights after Nasty arrived. With Dawna, of course. A cheap, new location allowed for new song-choosing adventures, and new options. Although I suppose the option of KTV itself was a new one for his Nastiness. Never mind that there was a major migrant school volunteer operation in the works [to fail] the following morning; we lit it up. Party rock.

So we could conquer the untamable beast out here in the east: the Great Wall of China, at Mutianyu. Although perhaps the real accomplishment was using Beijing’s public transportation system (the 867 bus) successfully. The day was comprised of not succumbing to anyone trying to whisk us away into their big gray van, a two-and-a-half hour ride to Mutianyu, many hours scaling the peaks and the valleys, a foul gray sky, a toboggan ride from top to bottom that could have been amazing had some lardy blonde woman not slowed us to a crawl, some grossly-overpriced Gatorades, another two-point-five hours riding back, and some Thai cuisine to finish the day off right. You think this is a game?

That’s ostentatiously why, Mike.

There is, of course, more. More that, as always, evades capture by the simple words of a middle school English teacher.

We were together! Reunited! Brought together across the great expanse of miles (kilometers?) and time (money?). The quirky senses of humor, the ones that resulted in snowball drive-by’s, "Get Low" music videos, the watermelon toss, and Jubilee Foods carry-out boy kidnapping, reconvened; the cynical worldviews that helped fuel "The Hate List" were at large again; the difficulty of balancing emotion and logic was up for discussion again.

It had been a long time; we’d both changed some. But the core persons were still the same, as was the core relationship. I loved getting to have Nasty Nate be an active part of my life again, even if only for a few weeks. He got to see some of what I’d been doing these past years, meet my people, greet this new lady friend of mine, strike out my students, hear my triumphs and frustrations, get some context for my life. Listen to what I thought of it all. Talk about being from Iowa. I got to experience him in transition, see what passions had come into his life since we last inhabited that same place, hear about how he and his own lady friend plan to do it up big during the next year, process China with him, be excited for what was coming. Listen to what he thought of it all. Talk about being from Iowa.

That was it. And it was good.

Last week, on June 5th, I saw Nasty Nate off in a taxi on Guangshun Dajie at 6:30 a.m. as it began to rain. It was just right. The rain was just right because of that feeling that you think won’t come this time, because you have seen too many people go. But it still comes.

I do not know when the two of us will strike again together. It might be soon; it might be never. But the last three weeks have affirmed investment in a strong, important friendship.

Nasty Nate! I am glad you came to Beijing. Thank you for being here. I’ll see you out on the field for a rematch as soon as we both can make it.


Saturday, June 8, 2013

Photography Quiz

1. Look at the picture
2. Answer the accompanying multiple choice question
3. Tally up your score
4. Win a prize
Scoring breakdown: if you get between ten and fifteen right, you are probably a student at BWYA. And you should probably get back to doing your homework. If you get between five and ten correct, you have probably logged at least eighty hours in a room with me in the past month - probably the staff lounge at my school, or maybe it was a hotel room or a Hummer in the UAE, or maybe you lived with me. If you get between five and zero correct, consider yourself close to being a normal human, but keep in mind that you still tallied up your score, which is a strike against you.

a. BWYA 2012-2013 Spirit Week: "Twin Day"
b. A celebration of the win that broke the Minnesota Twins' ten-game losing streak between May 14 and May 24
c. BWYA 2012-2013 Spirit Week: "Your Most Embarrassing Guilty Pleasure"
d. A normal day at Beijing World Youth Academy

a. Me talking on the phone with your mom
b. Me with a hat that is slightly too big for me
c. Me talking at Break Talk, a reasonable alternative bakery to Paris Baguette
d. Me talking while a tiny purple cat rests on my phone

a. BWYA 2012-2013 Spirit Week: "Career Day," although you probably wouldn't guess that, from left to right, the photo's occupants want to be a business woman, an artist, a normal guy, a Korean soccer player, and Santa Claus
b. Future elves (so, maybe "Career Day" is the right answer here, also)
c. Four students who captured Santa using a Korean soccer banner and tied that trout sniffer up with some Christmas lights...oh, the irony
d. A photograph that didn't get flipped horizontally and, thus, renders all the writing within it illegible

a. The only debate from an evening of forensics entertainment that wasn't described as "painful to watch" by other teachers
b. Two students practicing to be stenographers someday
c. BWYA Speech and Debate Night 2013
d. Mr. Haysom and I getting stomped in a debate on the topic "School Uniforms Look Better Than Almost-Matching Blue Shirts"

a. The most recent couch surfer I hosted at my home
b. The last picture of the most recent couch surfer I hosted at my home alive
c. A photograph of a Singaporean man who, not having any sandals, is too frightened to put his feet on the potentially-harmful floor of my home
d. Date night on pause

a. A bunch of kids with cookies and a bunch of kids without
b. A picture of a pastor (center, bottom) and his congregation
c. The final moments of the most stressful event I have organized this year, to date
d. The conclusion of the first speech and debate tournament that BWYA ever hosted

a. Me posing with a picture of an animal I killed and dragged back to my apartment
b. A photograph of me showing off a really, really light-colored booger I picked and noticed stuck to my finger
c. The next couch surfing photograph that is going up on my profile; surely this will reel them in...
d. Nasty Nate sleeping at my apartment, me having an idea

a. Me mimicking my facial expression from the previous question
b. Miss Liesl and I reacting to the discovery of some Cool Ranch Doritos...mmm!
c. Miss Liesl and I reacting to the announcement that one of BWYA's Spirit Week dress-up days would be Twin Day
d. How the Macbook Pro laptops that were given to we teachers at BWYA are being put to use

a. Me mimicking my facial expression from the previous two questions
b. A product from pottery class
c. Minnesota Twins brainwashing in Beijing
d. A future star and a teacher who will live vicariously through said star

a. A girl I paid to take a picture with me
b. Pointing out a speck of dust on the lens
c. One of only a few pictures from a standard "Asian couple coffeehouse photo shoot" that wasn't too cheesy to put on this blog
d. A young lady from Indonesia with whom I hang out quite a bit these days and whom I am sort of fond of

a. What happens to you when you start to drink milk or eat late-night street food in Beijing
b. A pot of gold
c. A fundraiser project gone horribly wrong
d. A big Magic Marker accident

a. My homeroom's official photograph for the 2012-2013 year book
b. A "Where's Waldo?" spinoff that has been retitled, "Which BWYA Student Hates the 'Black Pants Only' Part of BWYA's Dress Code the Most?"
c. A photograph that is composed of typical students, atypical kids, a teacher with a massive vertical, and a PR guy photo-bombing from the window
d. A photograph that could prevent one or two people from getting jobs in the future, and could perhaps even lose them their current ones

a. BWYA 2012-2013 Spirit Week: "Gender Swap Day"
b. BWYA 2012-2013 Spirit Week: "Filing for Unemployment Day" 
c. BWYA 2012-2013 Spirit Week: "Bring Your Mom to Work Day"
d. BWYA 2012-2013 Spirit Week: "Wear Shoes That Don't Match Your Outfit Day"
e. Two men who will die alone
f. Two men who together hold possibly the most responsibility titles at Beijing World Youth Academy, an IB school
g. A photograph that could prevent one or two people from getting jobs in the future, and could perhaps even lose them their current ones
h. The author of a blog that you spent six or seven minutes reading, and his friend, which, if you think about it, makes you almost as awful as the dudes in this photograph!
i. A normal day at Beijing World Youth Academy
j. ____insert your joke, appropriate or otherwise, here______

a. A Nine Inch Nails fan who doubles as a hit man on weekends, a man who got lost while looking for an inappropriate movie audition, and a horse thief returning from a poker game
b. Three actors from the BWYA version of "Snow White"
c. A fundraiser project gone horribly wrong
d. A normal day at Beijing World Youth Academy (Is this joke old yet? Answer: no)
a. A dude skipping church with another dude 
b. A [sweet] photograph stolen from Facebook
c. Reub and Nasty Nate on the Great Wall of China
d. A Rock Rapids, Iowa, follow-up photograph (of this one) that will get sent to The Lyon County Reporter


1. a
2. d
3. a
4. c
5. a
6. d
7. d
8. d
9. b
10. d
11. c
12. a
13. a
14. b
15. c

Admittedly, there is more than one right answer for many, many of these awful photos. But not as many as wrong, wrong, wrong answers...