When the going gets mildly difficult, give up

During my two years of teaching freshmen composition, Ive discovered that the old adage about learning more from your students than they learn from you is true. For instance, whereas Ive learned that college freshmen feel nothing but the utmost contempt for the English language, my students have learned absolutely nothing. Ive also learned that an alarming percentage of college freshmen have no qualms about 1) passing out in class, even if theyre sitting in the front row, or 2) sending and receiving text messages in class, even if theyre sitting in the front row. They seem to think theyre shielded by a magical veil through which they can see me, but I cant see them which I guess means that an alarming percentage of college freshmen are either lunatics or morons. Or, more realistically, an alarming percentage of college freshmen feel as much contempt for me as they do for English. The only surefire way Ive found of holding my students attention is to make a fool of myself. In fact, Ive discovered that the more flustered I feel while standing at the head of the classroom the sweatier my brow, the hotter my cheeks, the more pronounced my stammer the more engaged my students appear. Theyre like vampires, except instead of drinking blood, they drink my feelings of inadequacy and humiliation. I got my first inkling of this chilling fact my first day on the job. I had a fierce case of the jitters, both because Id never taught before, and because Id been up for three straight days preparing my lesson plan. Id consumed several cases of high-performance energy drink during those 72 bleak hours, and my heart was within a few beats-per-minute of bursting from my chest and running laps around the room. So its no surprise that seconds after I plugged in the overhead projector (I wanted to show my students a highly detailed picture of Swedish rock group Europe that Id drawn during a taurine-induced hallucination a few hours earlier), I tripped over the machines power cord and stumbled into a desk in the front row. I blacked out at that point, but when I came to half an hour later, I was sitting at the table at the front of the room and my students were writing quietly at their desks. I guessed I must have done something right. I figured out what that something was a few weeks later, while trying to connect my laptop to a high-tech video projector in order to show the class a PowerPoint slideshow. When I didnt meet with instant success, I panicked, plugging and unplugging wires at random, pounding the F12 key with increasing violence, and for reasons I still dont understand humming the theme song from Quantum Leap under my breath. Finally, feeling the heat of 24 sets of eyes on me, I looked up and gave my students a terrified, pleading smile the kind of smile you might offer a rabid grizzly bear were you to encounter a rabid grizzly bear in your kitchen. For the first time all quarter, my students were rapt with attention. Id unwittingly cast a spell upon the little snots! Unfortunately, I discovered that I much preferred it when my students ignored me. All those eager, expectant stares made me acutely aware not only of the beads of sweat rolling down my face, but also of my profound incompetence as a teacher. After a moment of silence, I straightened up and cleared my throat. There was only one way to deal with my predicament. How would you guys feel, I said, about not having class today? The kids glanced around at each other, probably to verify via telepathy that theyd heard me correctly. As is customary in freshmen composition, nobody volunteered a response, but I interpreted my students grins to mean that theyd feel great about not having class today. So I dismissed the incorrigible scamps, and while most of them stampeded out of the room eager to escape, I suppose, before I came to my senses and changed my mind one student remained seated. Was he so dedicated to freshmen composition that he couldnt bear the thought of leaving early? Nope. This particular student remained seated because he was face-down on his desk, out cold. His iPod ear buds were lodged snugly in place, and a puddle of slobber had formed around his open mouth, Ferris Bueller-style. Ignoring my slumbering charge pretending that the magical veil had been reversed I gathered my belongings, killed the lights, and left the room, pulling the door firmly shut behind me. Dan Leonidas makes shallow observations. He can be reached at dpleonidas@yahoo.com or myspace.com/lastminuteconcerns.

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