Today is teachers' day in China. We remember Education Day of 2005 at CNMI's PSS when SVES presented us as their Teacher of the Year. I had indicated that I would cross-dress that day in support of all the hullabaloo following the fun and frolic that Dandan Elementary had during one of their celebrations, caustically berated by homophobic teachers and the press.
I also shaved my top that year when asked to appear before the Legislature to receive commendations with the rest of the TOYs. It was in support of what I perceived was a hasty runaround the teachers were getting as PSS' implemented the standardization required by the No Child Left Behind Act. (Chicago's teachers go on strike today for the first time in a long while as the teachers' union and the city could not reach contract agreement, with one of two remaining contentious issues the standardized evaluation of teachers.)
The cross-dressing would have been another crazy act by one who does not really see any efficacy in protest movements, but one of my co-teachers enlightened us over the fact that I was not just representing myself as a TOY awardee, but more as a representative of the school. He prevailed.
I remember this because up to that year, I never really consented to receiving awards, having caricatured the practice as one observed by insecure folks who need the trappings of ritualized recognition. Earlier, a disabilities group colleague offered to award us recognition for our advocacy during their annual gathering, and I refused, much to his bafflement and chagrin.
But in 2005, Dad was at a care home, hitting 93 and declining in memory. Being his namesake as the Junior, my brothers posted my awards in his room sans comment so that he might mistake it as his own. I reaped a bumper crop of three TOY awards that year, and the onion skins framed their way on my Dad's wall!
We missed a class last Friday as the admin of our International Education Center asked us to attend the award ceremonies at the school auditorium.
A little historical background. During Mao's Cultural Revolution, students were not the only ones who trekked it into the countryside. Teachers and academics, some wearing dunce hats, were also trotted around, with some vilified as “idiots” as China's students convulsed. For 10 years, universities and senior high schools offered no sessions of learning as all were made to live with and learn from rural folks. When the excesses of the Red Guards got out of hand, the PLA intervened, and the CPC reinstated higher education.
In 1984, to right a recognized wrong, the Communist Party began the annual recognition of teachers and the accompanying awards to outstanding teachers.
We punctually got to the auditorium as requested, but being on time is not one of China's disciplined forte so we found ourselves in an empty auditorium. The stage had a huge golden hammer and sickle hanging from the rafters, with huge red flags on tilted poles appearing like they were waving in the wind, all festooned across the stage.
There was no mistaking about who the event was for. Teachers' recognition day it was, but the Communist Party was on spotlight. The Party Education Minister for the province also leads the university administration, and the accompanying music blaring from the sound system was distinctively '60-ish Kiev-style chorale, extolling the virtues of party discipline and endeavors.
My seatmate was our British colleague, the unofficial faculty dean of the foreign contingent, a local Liverpool yokel with nary a trace or pretension of royalty. He is also a linguist of considerable talent, being fluent in Putunghua and an accomplished reader of Zhongwen characters. He translates for Chinese athletes playing cricket, including the first one to break into a club in the British Isles this summer.
In characteristic understated British cynicism, he quietly revealed that I was lucky I did not understand the proceedings. He was tired of all the perfunctory repetition of party slogans and the ritualistic pronouncements of goodwill from all the speakers. Proper form rather than honesty defines public speeches.
The Brit and I were pinned huge red paper roses, with the characters “honor” emblazoned on the ribbon. We were seated among the awardees who also sported the same flower and ribbon.
My mother who turns 92 this month, a bedridden elder, recently suffered a fall. My sister and two brothers are in the process of ensuring her structured medical care. I thought of her as I fingered the huge red paper rose pinned to our chest, and resolved to send it to her pronto.
With the foreign contingent a minuscule portion of the whole faculty, my Brit colleague and I found our representation a bit akilter from the actual ratio. But our names were called up to mount the stage after the first five were each handed their honor certificates, and we dutifully complied. We were announced as the outstanding foreign teachers of the year.
I was informed that monetary award accompanies the recognition, so I consented. Not much, but with the current rate of teachers' salaries, we'll take whatever is proffered.
For Mama, one paper rose coming up!
Jaime R. Vergara (email@example.com) is a former PSS teacher and is currently writing from the campus of Shenyang Aerospace University in China.