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Cutting-edge fashion

I work as a graduate teaching associate in the English department of a large Midwestern college. Ill refer to this college as The Midland State University, because I believe (erroneously) that calling the place by an invented name 1) makes me appear imaginative and cutting-edge, like a literary Steve Jobs, and 2) will keep me from getting fired should any members of the university administration read my column and decide that Im too imaginative and cutting-edge to be trusted. Why would the administration fear an imaginative and cutting-edge graduate teaching associate? Because I teach freshman composition, and freshman composition is the last place the higher-ups want students using their imaginations or cutting any edges. As anyone whos ever taken it knows, the goal of freshman composition is to strip students of their creativity (creativity being the devils favorite weapon when it comes to corrupting young minds) and persuade them to reject the twin evils of communism and rock-and-roll music. Thus, because the idea of losing my graduate funding which is tied to my teaching assistantship sends me into anaphylactic shock, I want both my students and my bosses to think that Im as bland and unimaginative as an episode of Two and a Half Men. And I get the impression that they do. How? Student evaluations, thats how. At the end of every semester, my students get the chance to tell both me and the higher-ups, in writing, how incompetent they think I am. This means that, on the last day of class, I have the pleasure of inviting twenty-five exhausted, demoralized, and most likely hung-over college freshmen to frankly assess my skills as an instructor. A piece of advice in case you ever find yourself in a similar situation: choose this moment to tell your students youre giving them all perfect grades, regardless of the lackluster quality of their essays or their shoddy attendance records. Such a promise might not guarantee you a lot of positive evaluations, but it will guarantee you a lot of indifferent evaluations. And remember indifference is the best response an educator can hope to elicit from his pupils. Anyway, I saw my student evaluations from this past spring for the first time a couple of weeks ago. Because I live in Saranac Lake during the summer, the higher-ups mailed the handwritten forms to me after putting them through a rigorous review process (from what I can gather, this process involves the higher-ups getting smashed on boxed wine purchased with English department funds, of course and reading the evaluations out loud while doing their best Robert De Niro impressions). Most of my evaluations featured one variation or another of the same indifferent sentiment (the class was boring sometimes and interesting other times). One, however, stood out from the rest and showed me just how accomplished Ive become at presenting myself as bland and unimaginative: The class was boring sometimes and interesting other times, the evaluation read, but one things certain: the instructor needs to buy more shirts! The student was referring to the fact that I wore one of two shirts the only two collared shirts I own every day of class. And while my first reaction to this evaluation was to burn with shame and spend hours hiding under my bed, and my second reaction was to burn with rage and spend hours pounding out profanity-laced e-mails to randomly selected former students, my third reaction was to burn with pride and spend hours congratulating myself (by which I mean smiling and nodding at myself in the bathroom mirror). Id gotten so good at suppressing the imaginative, cutting-edge part of my personality (assuming rather boldly that such a part ever existed) that I now seemed bland and unimaginative even to myself. Dan Leonidas makes shallow observations. He can be reached at dpleonidas@yahoo.com or myspace.com/lastminuteconcerns.

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