This kind of shit only happens in books. Last week during assembly, one of the Thai teachers announced a singing competition. Being the nationalists Thai people are, the students were being encouraged to compete in singing “Phleng Chat Thai,” the Thai national anthem. I immediately thought of Katie.
Crazy Kate, they called her. Her parents are Swiss, and she looks every bit as European as they do—pale skin, blond hair, blue eyes. But despite her Swiss heritage, every morning she would belt out “Phleng Chat Thai” during assembly. I can thank her for my ability to hum the anthem on command. I can’t very well thank the school band, since the only instrument playing the melody is a xylophone, drowned out by clashing cymbals and bashing drums. Apparently this school can only afford a percussion section. Anyway, thanks to Katie, I now know the Thai national anthem.
In the teacher’s lounge, we started discussing the competition. Mostly mocking it. What students would be that interested in competing over singing the national anthem? “Katie would do it,” someone quipped.
Everyone laughed. “God, I hear her singing it every morning,” I said. People chuckled. “No seriously, she practically screams it from literally right behind me.”
“How is she these days?” Fred asked, looking at Mickey, the director of studies.
“She hasn’t had an episode for about a year now,” he answered.
“Episode?” I asked.
“She’s a bit crazy, that one. She’s been known to bite people.”
“Seriously?” I chuckled.
“I’m afraid so,” Mickey said.
“Eugene wouldn’t even go near her, did you notice that?” asked Roy, another teacher.
“Haha! Yes!” said Mickey. He looked at me, “Last year Eugene was the student body president. Whenever he saw Katie coming down the hallway toward him, he’d turn around and run the other way.”
“So don’t stand too close to her in the morning,” Fred joked.
This concerned me a bit. Katie was in my homeroom class. If she had an episode, I’d be responsible for dealing with it. I’d have to call the hospital if someone were injured. I’d have to call her parents. I’d have to monitor her medication. “But she’s better now,” I asked.
“Yes, she spent some time in Singapore sorting out her medication. Since she’s been back she’s acted rather normal,” said Mickey.
“Is it true she bit Matthew, too?” Fred asked with a grin on his face. Matthew was the head of English studies.
“Haha! Yes I nearly forgot about that!” Mickey replied. Mickey turned to me, “Matthew used to teach Secondary 1 and 2, back when Katie was Secondary 1. She got herself into a tuft with another girl for some reason. Matt tried to break them up and she bit him on the finger. He’s still got the scar to prove it! Haha! Crazy Kate!”
“But she’s under control now,” I reiterated.
“Look, you’ve got him all scared now, Mickey!” said Roy.
Laughing, Mickey put out his hands and waved him in a calming manner, “Not to worry, not to worry. She’s got her meds sorted out and she’s been acting fine now.” Mickey paused to think for a moment. “Though she has been on edge lately, I’ll be honest.”
The bell rang. I needed to run to my next class. The Secondary 2B Remedial English. God, they were exhausting!
I hadn’t thought too much about Katie’s behavior until today. Normally, when I come to homeroom, she’s cheerful. “Good morning, sir,” she always says.
This morning we didn’t have homeroom. The Thai P.E. teacher led marching practice for Sports Day this Friday. If this morning was any indication of how Sports Day would go, I can only expect disorganized chaos on Friday. Having skipped homeroom, I had to check in with my students during free time. So far I had five students unaccounted for.
I ran into Katie in the hallway on the way to report the absences. “Good morning, Katie. Have you seen Marcus today?”
She looked at me startled. She stared at me a moment, then asked, “Why?”
“He wasn’t in assembly this morning.”
“Oh…no, I haven’t seen him.”
I decided to disregard the issue of Katie’s potential unstableness for the time being. She seemed off, but then again I don’t really know any of these students very well. Besides, we all have our off days.
The students of Secondary 2B Remedial English were better behaved than normal today. But that isn’t saying much. The fact that they were all there, and that some weren’t skiving off, was already an improvement. And I was trying a new strategy: work together to improve. I basically set the class up so that they were largely accountable to each other through games and, although I don’t normally condone this, corporal punishment. So they were starting to cooperate and help each other out.
Thirteen is an awkward age. And I’m the only teacher with enough youthful energy to deal with the pandemonium that can be a Secondary 2 classroom, much less a classroom full entirely of delinquent 13-year-olds. But today they were quite well behaved, all things considered. In fact there was only one odd disturbance, besides the usual mundane disciplinary issues one can always expect with such a group.
It happened when I started writing on the board. We were revising first conditional sentences. While I was writing on the board, I heard the classic Thai “Oo-wee!”—the sound all Thais make when something bad or unfavorable occurs. I turned around and caught Rainbow, the only girl in the class, reaching towards Jay—one of the usual skivers. “Teacher, what’s this?” asked Jay playfully.
I walked over and saw a whitish-grey bunny sitting on his lap, its soft fur sticking up and pulsating with its startled beating heart. “Where did you get that?”
He pointed to Rainbow. Sheepishly she raised her hand and pointed to the side of her desk where she was keeping the bunny.
“Ok. Well, give it back to her, please,” I said.
“Ouch!” He said as the bunny dug its claws into his leg. He handed the bunny back. “Teacher what is it in English?”
“Rabbit,” I said. “Or in this case, ‘bunny,’ since its still a baby.” Never shying from exploiting a learning opportunity, I wrote the word “bunny” on the board. The class repeated it in unison.
“Rainbow, you should put the bunny somewhere safe for today. And please don’t bring it in tomorrow.”
At the end of the lesson, I returned to the teacher’s lounge, where my desk is. Peter arrived not long after. He’s taught the other Secondary 2B English class—the group that’s not so at-risk. “How’d it go today with the buffalo?” he asked.
“Not so well, as usual,” I replied. “I think we need to rethink whether they should be taking the same exam as your class.”
He agreed. So we sat down and started looking at the exam to figure out what we can simplify or cut.
After we had worked for about an hour, Mickey barged into the teacher’s lounge. “You won’t believe what’s happened! Katie’s bit someone again!”
“Christ! What happened?”
“Someone had snuck a rabbit into school today. She was petting it in science class on the fourth floor, then she just switched! She grabs it by the neck and heads for the window. She thrusts the window open and threatens to throw the rabbit out!”
“Is it ok?”
“Yeah, the rabbit’s fine. But Tina and Christine didn’t fare so well. In the process of stopping her and getting the rabbit out her hands, she bit Tina and slugged Christine in the face!”
“Where on earth did they get a rabbit?”
“I haven’t the foggiest idea. Strange isn’t it? Anyway, Christine’s going to have a black eye. Her face is all red around her eyes.”
“Wow! And are they taking Tina to the hospital?”
“No she said she’s fine. But I think she should go. Anyway, Katie’s parents are on their way.”
“Crazy Kate strikes again.”
Needless to say my day got a bit more complicated. And I couldn’t help thinking that the poor thing wouldn’t get to sing the national anthem after all.
Note: the events of the above story are true. It happened just today, actually. But I changed the names of the people Dragnet style. Admittedly, for the purpose of storytelling, there were a few “artist touches.”