Saturday, April 25, 2009

Classroom Miscellany

I have three more classes before my teaching career comes to a close. Here are some random things I have seen in classrooms during my relatively short teaching career of 15 years, including 10 years of graduate teaching (KU, Brown, Wesleyan, USD):

1. I once had a police officer deliver a subpoena to a student during class. It was an Honors class.

2. In my first large lecture course (67 students), in the second week of classes, I almost blacked out while lecturing. I just kept talking slower and slower, trying to read my notes through the little bright flashing lights and the tunnel through which I could see. Finally, a student in the first row jumped up and made me sit down; then I started sweating profusely.

3. One of my students wrote an entire in-class essay, two single-spaced pages, on how much he dreaded my class and expected soon to see my "rising star" fall hard.

4. A world-class ballerina attending college under a pseudonym cried in my office because she could not understand an essay on Lacan's mirror stage.

5. One semester I failed a quarter of the students in an American Literature survey course.

6. A student in an upper-level course for majors confessed to the class that he had to close the door to his bedroom in the fraternity house one evening because he found himself moved to tears while reading Maria Cummins's 1855 novel The Lamplighter for our class.

7. I rarely showed films in class, but I once showed a movie without first double checking the running time; I started the film in the second half of one class meeting; the movie extended over the next two meetings and into a third.

8. I have apprehended eight plagiarized papers.

9. In one particularly likeable class, there were a couple of young women in the front row who routinely sat with their arms around each other, heads on one another's shoulders, or legs intertwined, and another student who wore a bathrobe to class once a week because he was in an unstructured-dance club that met and cavorted about the green in various stages of undress just before class.

10. I once realized about ten minutes into a lecture that my pants were unzipped so I made a big production of being about to sneeze, excused myself, and ran out of the room. But then I was afraid that the class would know I was just pretending to sneeze, so I darted into the bathroom adjacent to the classroom and noisily pulled a bunch of toilet paper off the roll, which I knew they could hear and which I thought would lend verisimilitude to the phony sneezing. When I got back and started to talk again, I realized that I'd been so concerned about concealing the sneeze that I'd completely forgotten to zip up my pants, so I thought, what the hell, and just reached down and zipped them. But then, it occurred to me that the class might now think my sneeze had been so powerful that it had forced the zipper down on my pants. For some reason, this was intolerable, so I confessed the whole scenario. They looked at me as if I were insane.

And a sort of general note: students have a weird notion either that they are invisible or that the person yawping in front of them is utterly unconscious of what goes on three feet in front of her. As a result, they make faces, roll their eyes dramatically, yawn, pick their noses, scratch themselves and, my favorite, glare at other students. The dangerous thing is that while the professor can see what the students do, it's not always so easy to interpret.

Which reminds me of my own days as a student and two classes in particular, one when I was a sophomore at GWU and another when I was a grad student at Brown. In both, I somehow ended up having to sit next to a person who drove me absolutely bonkers. I recall being consumed with hot, irrational, screaming-inside, almost uncontainable hatred. In both cases, my feelings were prompted by the other person's habit of picking at himself (both were male): picking at his eyes, his ears, his scalp, different parts of his face, his neck. These guys' fingers were so busy excavating their own disgusting surfaces I don't know how they ever took notes. My repulsion grew and grew: I was like a character in a Poe story. I remember in both instances finding some relief in putting my hand up around my face on that side to shield myself from awareness of the movements. I wonder now if my professors saw any of this playing out and whether they knew I was reacting to the person next to me and found it amusing, or thought I was unaccountably appalled by their lectures and found it depressing.


joanna said...

I'm not sure you ever told me about the ballerina thing. Were you teaching a theory class? What did you say to her? Did you somehow relate Lacan's mirror stage to ballet?

ame said...

I did not relate Lacan to dancing, although that would have been an interesting thing to do! I don't know enough about either dance theory, assuming there is such a thing--I am sure there is--or psychoanalysis to relate the two. I translated the basics of the mirror stage from Lacanian into human language, and she "got" it: she was very bright anyway, just frustrated and tired.