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Wait, where am I?

28 Feb

Freshmen are precious little gifts from the academic g/God(s). While I empathize with (now more than ever) the individual challenges and personal issues each student has that I’m blissfully unaware of, I can’t help but find it funny — and maybe a little bit of offense — in the things that come out of their mouths.

I recently gave a lecture on Salvador Dalí to prepare the class for their evaluative essays on art, thinking that they would enjoy writing about pretty paintings and sculptures more than books (plus it forces them out into the community to actually look at local art). A student who’d been absent for the last two weeks looks at me and say, “I thought this was English class.” Confused, I looked around the room, and replied, “Wait, where am I?” Then gave my best really?! look and proceeded with my (Sur)really awesome lecture.

Puns!

Today has been one of the most difficult days of teaching so far, probably because everything seems to be culminating all at once in every aspect of my life.

Academically and professionally, I’m completing my thesis, still waiting to hear back from PhD programs (any day now!), preparing to organize and present at a conference next week, staring at stacks of 100+ student papers and annotated bibliographies to grade (which I’m constantly reminded of during each class when a student asks when they’ll get back the papers they turned in last class), and preparing to go to a huge national conference in two weeks which adds more work because now I need to figure out alternate assignments for the days I’ll be gone.

Romantically, (hah! I say that in jest, of course) there’s not much going on aside from realizing my selections keep getting more and more outlandish. I did, however, write a long, heart-wrenching letter to Red Ranger who I’ve loved for years, telling him exactly how I feel. He wrote an equally long letter that explored the philosophical underpinnings of romantic love vs. universal love. It’s probably the best written, most philosophical “it’s not you, it’s me” piece of bullshit I’ve ever come across.

Personally, and the impetus for my complete love of all of my students despite the nonsensical things they say, I found out last night that a long-time family friend committed suicide.

He was 20.

To write about it and see these letters come together to form that sentence is bearable, only because I’m not entirely sure it’s real. But to say it out loud destroyed me.

Teaching today was damn near impossible because in every one of their faces, I saw his face. He was a student. An RA. He sat in classes, made excuses for not having his work done in time, rushed home to finish the assignment before the extended deadline. He laughed at corny jokes made by desperate professors.

And as much as I wanted to be a hardass on them because they had annotated bibliographies due today and I knew a lot of them still weren’t following directions, I couldn’t. And maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe it’s okay to be more human and forgiving in classes, because it really should be okay to be more human and forgiving in the “real world,” where second chances are given and we don’t have a set formula for how to deal with circumstance. All too often we take this prescriptivist approach to teaching or simply being citizens in this global community, rendering in “Situation 1, Action A correlates with Consequence B,” rather than taking into account the thousand, tiny multipliers to the human element.

I wanted to give each one of them a hug and tell them that they’re important, because they are — to me, to each other, to this entire experience of life. I wanted to tell them that even though I know very little about their lives, they’re all going to be okay. They’re allowed to make mistakes. They’re allowed to be hurt or disappointed. They’re allowed to be human.

What today reminded me is that while I have all of these extracurricular issues going on in my own life, I put my business face on and be the most helpful, cheerful, positive teacher I can be.

And so do so many of my students. I forget that sometimes.

So I hang onto their witty quips (“Look who decided to show up” when I’m exactly on time rather than ten minutes early due to a snowstorm), random statements of truth (“Snow makes me believe in the possibility of unicorns”), and grateful emails (when I am made aware of their circumstances and make arrangements to help them successfully complete the coursework) to tide me through and remind me of just how human they can be.

–AM.

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10 things more interesting than writing my thesis.

22 Feb

My committee chair needs a completed draft of my thesis tomorrow. I have approximately twenty pages. I need approximately twenty-five more. I’m no mathematician, but I’m pretty sure I’m fucked — and not in the way I’d like to be.

To force my procrastinating ass to actually write it, BFF and I have locked ourselves in our office to write. (She had me hand over my phone and turn off my wi-fi. I’m sitting across from her, furiously typing. She doesn’t know it’s not for the thesis. Withholding snortles at my own humor might make me explode.)

I spent the last ten minutes doing yoga and counting fibers on the carpet. I’ve also compiled this list of things exponentially more interesting and appealing than completing my thesis:

10. Combing through employment contracts to determine the legality of the tiny bottles of wine we have surrounding research and what exactly constitutes “working hours” since this definitely counts as “working hours” for prostitutes — the most logical occupational option I have if I do not complete my thesis.

9. Tracking menstrual cycles in relation to the moon as well as environmental hygienic habits.

8. Using the fluorescent lights on the ceiling to work on my winter tan.

7. Turn the area rug into a tortilla and make like a burrito.

6. Take an online quiz and self-diagnose as moderate to severe adult ADHD.

5. Vacuum the cat.

4. Bathe in a tub of spaghetti noodles.

3. Penguin-dive down a waxed linoleum hallway.

2. Naked snow angel.

1. Hedgehog bowling.

0. Get into a bar fight.

— AM. (Okay, I know that was technically eleven. But I have an English degree. So.)

Post-publishing edit: we finally took a bathroom break. Here’s the conversation:

Me: Synchronized peeing!

BFF: Well after as many years as we’ve been friends, it’s not surprising we managed to synchronize that.

Sacrificial goat, anyone?

16 Feb

I suspect that at the end of this life, I’ll find out that I’ve really just been living in a simulated reality controlled by a failed Lifetime movie screenplay writer.

Or an angry teenager.

But I guess that’s probably the same thing.

(“I’ve heard it both ways.” Name that show!)

The last three years, I’ve been Valentine-less. So I usually just drink. But yesterday I had to teach, so my tradition had to wait until the evening. About half of my students showed up which crippled the lesson plans I had so we watched Harlem Shake and Bad Lip Reading videos on YouTube. And we ate candy.

I would’ve tried to be a little bit more productive, but about twenty minutes before I went to teach, I received an email from one of the PhD programs I’d applied to. They would not be accepting me for admission for the fall 2013 semester. I’ve spent the last five years postponing really trying to have a relationship (aside from the comedic adventures I find myself in to keep things interesting) in order to put everything I have into school so I can have my doctorate well before I turn thirty. So on a day already riddled with being emotionally rejected, I was now also academically rejected.

Yes, it’s just one school — and one of the most competitive in the nation — but I still couldn’t help but notice the irony and sadistic humor my comptroller has.

The YouTube videos helped.

And the candy. And the coffee that Barista Boy #2 made me that had “Olive Jews” written on the cup. And the donuts.

During “class,” I made a comment — within the context of our video watching — of how someday, when I have kids, I’d love to move to England so they grow up with accents. One of my ridiculously attractive black students (who’s on the football team and has dreadlocks) said “Do you want your kids to be in your own race or do you want mixed babies?”

In hindsight, there are so many ways I should’ve handled this. In the moment, my response was simply “I just want happy babies with British accents.” And skin like caramel.

To continue the excitement of my Valentine’s Day, I decided to tell my parents that I got a tattoo the day before. My whole life, my mother has been vehemently against tattoos. And for the last twenty-three years, I’ve never disappointed my mother. Well, at least not to her knowledge or in any way that I’d ever feel comfortable revealing to her. At any rate, she was silent angry. Which is the scariest. My father thought it was pretty. My seventy-eight year old German grandmother looked at her wrist and muttered “I want one…”

I then went to a pathetic concert at a small, local venue with approximately six patrons who weren’t in the band. The Chemist invited me. He wore a bow tie and an argyle sweater.

Last week he showed up at my door wearing sea foam green pants from the 1970s, a turtle neck, and a fedora. He then came in and made me a drink with his homemade limoncello. He also wore this outfit in public later in the evening. My younger sister was in town for a visit and kept remarking how much my life resembles a sitcom. She doesn’t even know the half of it.

Today the Pastor messaged me about a show at a coffee shop tonight, asking if I’d come out, and said he hoped I didn’t find it weird, but he’s been praying for me. I’m not sure if I should be flattered or insulted. So I’m going with contentment.

I’d go to the show — which starts in ten minutes — but I’m about to go explore abandoned tunnels under the city I live in with one of The Boys, the Quizmaster, and this really great girl I write with.

Seriously.

Here’s to hoping I don’t die or stumble upon death. I have a night vision camera and heat sensor camera app on my phone.

And a six-pack of Rascal’s Wild Red in my trunk.

— AM.

No velcro for me. Only laces, buckles, or straps.

7 Feb

I almost threw my shoe at a woman today.

(And by “woman,” I strictly mean anatomically.)

But literally. My shoe was in my hand — not on my foot — and I pulled my arm back and began to throw it, only deciding at the last second that having to explain to future employers that the assault charge on my record was for beaming a colleague in the head with a loafer simply wouldn’t be worth the explanation.

The others in the room flinched, fearing that I was actually about to throw a shoe.

As a child, I always took my anger for my younger sister out on her by throwing things. I take full credit for her quick reflexes and our collective ability to reassemble remote controls, hair brushes, and Barbies.

We had a follow up meeting to last week’s meeting (See “Meet me at the flagpole. It’s going down.”), and after the official meeting, a few of us hung around to have a general chat — nothing secretive, just teaching logistics — and two of the anti-side came back in to further discuss things from the meeting.

I tried to leave because I knew it would not generate a fruitful discussion — which I said — but the guy took that as an opportunity to call me and “my survey” passive aggressive. After a long, drawn out explanation and back and forth as to the contents of the survey, I explained that there was absolutely no malicious intent in the creation of the survey, acknowledging that I did not like him (those exact words because I have the lady balls to tell someone how I feel) and that he did not like me, so I took that into account in the multiple drafts, approved by our advisor, so as to avoid any sort of situation where it could be construed as a personal attack as per his accusation that the survey was a passive aggressive attack to call him out.

I then pointed out that any inference of passive aggressive behavior is something that he needs to own in his victimized interpretation and not pass onto others.

It clearly spiraled from there when I nearly lost my shit.

There was also a statement he made somewhere in the hour long post-meeting meeting where he said he doesn’t believe the school should be relied on as a source of income. He sees being a GTA as a line on the CV. I see being a GTA as the beginning of my lifelong career in academics and first-year composition.

I wonder whose course evaluations are best.

(Hint: mine.)

— AM.

Meet me at the flagpole. It’s going down.

30 Jan

I graduated high school in 2008. I was over high school in 2004. I was a nerd who socialized with my teachers and I was never invited to parties.

Granted, I’ve come a long way since then as far as not being as obnoxiously nerdy (and I’m fun as hell at parties), but the fundamental core of my person hasn’t changed: I don’t do shenanigans and I don’t give a fuck.

A few months ago, I wrote a couple blogs and created a beautiful meme about being a graduate student and engaging with my cohort (See “There’s a story, I swear.” and “The cat says no voting this year.”).

In summation: I hate them. And I know “hate” is a strong word, but I’ve never had to swallow seething rage like this.

It came to the attention of our graduate student organization that some students were frustrated with the behavior of several of their peers in the program, citing the facts that these students admittedly didn’t read the assigned work, showed up to class in sweats and behaving like a pack of freshmen, and outwardly disrespected the professors. If it was one student, it’d be one of those “damn you’re an asshole” situation, but there’s a hoard of them. A hoard. 

So at our last meeting, we brought this to the attention of the members, one of which is a student who is part of the problem. We compromised — much to this student’s disdain who said the idea of coming up with a professionalism/code of conduct document was patronizing (she often removes her shoes DURING CLASS and props her bare feet on the chair next to her) — and sent out a six-question survey to graduate students and faculty in the department.

We (BFF and I) knew there’d be some shitty answers because the hoard actively hates two of our faculty members — both of these faculty members are some of the hardest working, most dedicated, and most helpful people either of us have ever encountered — and consequently actively hates us because in their eyes, our successes have nothing to do with academic or professional merit and everything to do with the fact that these professors enjoy having us in class and have taken on mentorship roles in our lives.

‘Cause we’re fucking awesome. And smart. And work hard.

The responses reflected this hatred accordingly, and also demonstrate a solid need for a code of conduct to be enforced.

While none of the questions or the accompanying email said anything about how clothes or appearance impact professionalism, the initial discussion during last week’s meeting brought up what we thought were basic understandings of how to look and act like a graduate student. A few of the responses were ridiculously reactive to the notion that as a graduate student you should dress like a professional.

Shame was bestowed onto BFF and I, the questionnaire writers, in those responses. (Mind you, we sent the questions to our graduate coordinator for final approval before ever sending them to the students and faculty to remain as professional, poignant, and unbiased as possible.)

The final question: “What do you expect of your graduate cohort — both in and out of the class?” The crowning response: “Just say no to hipster glasses.”

Now, I may be reading too much into this response, but I’m the only graduate student in the program who wears “hipster glasses.” Sorry I’ve been rocking the bottle caps since my blind, nerdy ass was eight.

The thin frames don’t work with my vision because the lenses are about, oh, half an inch thick.

I wish I were exaggerating.

As we went over these responses in the meeting in an effort to be completely transparent and include all responses in the open, I paused at this question.

“I’m not entirely sure who or what this response is referring to,” as I adjust my frames, “but thank you, whoever you are.”

After a feigned smile, “And I’d be happy to meet with you after the meeting is over to present my cock that you can subsequently suck.”

Because I’m a goddamn professional.

–AM.

P.S., any experiences or observations or literature about professionalism in graduate programs would be much appreciated. I’ve been hitting the Google like the finest ass in town for resources to verbally punch these assholes in the face.

P.P.S., I’m well aware that this blog is the antithesis of “professional” which is why it’s in a blog. And has no identifiers of the people involved. And in real life is only spoken to BFF in the privacy of our closed office door or over drinks with nicknames. Again, I’m a goddamn professional.

Rainbow-shitting unicorn.

29 Jan

I’ve always been hesitantly superstitious. Although I’m familiar with the theory that big numbers negate any sense of coincidence, I can count high enough to calculate grades, so I just don’t own that train of thought as well as the alphabet which only feeds into my thoughts of something grander and more miraculous.

And I don’t necessarily mean God in the normative fashion.

Perhaps a flying spaghetti monster.

Or a version of myself aboard a unicorn. Or a centaur.

I said in class today — at the present moment, quite unsure of the context — that for all I know, I could be God. Then I said “My bad. That’s probably sacrilegious. Oops.” I think it’s early enough in the semester for that to not appear on my evaluations.

My favorite thing about January is that it has always seemed to set the tone for the rest of my year. It has this magical cleansing feel to it for me, and maybe building that expectation for it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I rang in the 2012 New Year with a kiss from a tattoo-faced stranger and one of my girlfriends, and I spent the majority of the month in reflective solace of the relationship that could’ve been only to take out frustrations and feelings of angst on a number of uniformed men.

So, accordingly, the remainder of the year was confronted head-on with type-guy phases and going into every potential relationship knowing it’ll never work out because none of them so far have worked out.

Did I mention I’m kind of a genius at relationships?

This year, while it’s still all brand new and shiny, has been monumentally different, which in my superstitious, pigeon-like mind automatically means that the rest of this year will be different.

Despite the fact that Barista Boy #1 still attempts to tug me along (although I did passive aggressively confront him on his behavior, pointing out to him the peculiarity of his text messages so perfectly matching up with the absence of his lady friend and his boredom), I’m not giving him the attention that I did before because he’s kind of a tool. And by “kind of” I mean “definitely.”

And Barista Boy #2 (Who, in all fairness, isn’t someone I’ve dated or will date, but rather just hang out with because he’s sweet and entertaining) and I have had a lot of really wonderful moments, like the last time we spent an entire day together drinking coffee, perusing the library, investigating the local art scene, grocery shopping, cooking dinner, and watching Big Bang Theory together, only to sum it up with a reassurance that it’s totally to be besties. I could use more of those.

I have some hope for The Chemist, my latest conquest. He’s everything I thought I’d want — tall, handsome, ridiculously intelligent, intriguing — and if it doesn’t manifest into anything more than a friendship (because mutual friends/acquaintances have told me to stay away, so I’m probably going to listen to them), he at least proves that this type of guy actually exists.

But really, it’s like a square peg fitting into a round hole. I find myself trying to force happiness with these guys, but never quite fitting. Maybe I’m really going for the wrong type of person.

After months of casually running into each other at parties, we finally had a full blown conversation at a mutual friend’s birthday last weekend, and within ten minutes of becoming Facebook friends after the party, he began messaging me. Every day since then we’ve spoken about his research and the progress he’s making on his thesis, about my research and the shenanigans of my students, or various forms of entertainment. Last night we listened to old jazz vinyls and drank tea for several hours. And tonight, he invited me to a ska concert.

We danced, we drank, and we sat in his car for a solid ten minutes listening to more music. He remembered the title of my thesis and was actually interested in the progress I was making. And when I left, he gave me a few CDs he burned for me that he thought I’d be interested in.

In a way, I’m embarrassed that something like that could mean so much to me. If it were a regular occurrence to have someone take a real interest in forming a connection with me, I don’t think I’d obsess and evaluate what I finally did right. But that’s where I am right now.

It’s nothing serious, and there’s nothing really to pinpoint. It’s catching him smiling at me out of the corner of my eye, or watching defensively as another man looks my way, waiting to see if I look back. Or it’s putting thought into the records he brings over to give me some familiarity, but also show me something new. It’s even saying that he’ll see me tomorrow even though we have no plans to spend time together, and work on separate corners of the university.

What I’m left with is all of these little moments and no idea what to do with them.

So I’ll be a fucking girl about the whole situation and mind-frolic in the residual clovers from the rainbow-shitting unicorn.

–AM.

I need a new bendy straw.

27 Dec

I’m one of those people that constantly needs to be doing something to maintain any semblance of sanity. Since school let out and the holidays are over, these last two days have been hell.

Not to mention my younger sister is officially engaged and my older sister will be within the next week.

Meanwhile, I’ve sent out four applications to doctoral programs on all four corners of the United States so as to get away from everyone I possibly could know.

And my left eye hasn’t stopped twitching since November.

At any rate, I’ve been working extremely hard to get something together so I can feel like I’m being productive. Teaching part-time at two institutions (which ends up being full-time) while working as a program assistant and being a full-time graduate student has me in the mindset to where if I’m doing nothing, I go crazy. Which, to be completely honest, is why I date. It’s a distraction and something to keep me occupied.

I deleted my online dating profile after receiving a message from a former student, saying he was totally intrigued by my profile and wanted to get to know me better. He didn’t realize I was the teacher who failed him.

I’m back to dating in the real world.

I had a really great date with Beard guy, but he kind of face-raped me while we were at a bar. 1) I don’t kiss in bars. 2) I don’t kiss in public. 3) I don’t like being face-raped. 4) I don’t do well with guys that are overtly complimentary. 5) I don’t do well with guys that are insanely insecure and continuously ask why I like him. Dude, put your vajay away. Needless to say, I haven’t seen him since.

Although things with Team Jacob were going pretty well, he has this weird complex that I find incredibly annoying. There’s a fine balance to be struck, and he’s on the side of awkward enough for me to be attracted to, but almost too awkward to pursue anything with me.

Finally realizing that completing my applications to doctoral programs would be the best use of my spare time rather than making something “work” with some guy temporarily because I’d be leaving in a few months anyway, I have the boys on hold.

So after sending out my final applications and scrolling through the engagement/marriage/baby feed of my Facebook, I decided to celebrate/mourn/cope with a jug of sangria. It’s the cheap kind, so I mix it with schnapps. Twice the alcohol content and a significantly better flavor.

According to the history of my browser, the following are Google searches of this endeavor:

  • Exercise while drunk
  • How to properly shave a cat
  • Life size Barbie
  • Colorado prostitution laws
  • I think my cat is trying to kill me
  • How to tell if you have a brain tumor

–AM.

My Little Pony complex.

20 Nov

Every so often, I create an online dating profile. It’s usually fueled by wine and the need to be told I’m pretty. I’ll post blatantly honest truths about myself, masked behind sarcastic commentaries on the very men who troll my page, and wait for messages.

It’s always the same type of message, too. “damn gurl i seen ur pics an i had to tell u ur 2 damn beatiful 2 b on herr” or “Im likin what i see in youre profile. Care 2 chat?” or my favorite “Those eyes……..wyd tonite beautiful.”

(I had to Google “wyd.” It means “What are you doing?” You’re welcome.)

Bro. Read my fucking profile. I’m a teacher. Of English. Damn near completed an MA and about to start a PhD. Know your audience, please, and speak to me like you’re not an idiot.

Every so often there’ll be one that’s half intelligent — a few spelling or grammatical errors, but no biggie — and fits my only criteria: tall. There’s a gorgeous muscle man I’m currently talking to about traveling. Even though he counted Rome as a country, I may let him buy me dinner. He’s really pretty.

I’m also talking to an ex-boyfriend, but in a ridiculously platonic way. I give him advice on how to devirginize his latest love interest, and he tells me I’m pretty when I need it.

I used to have a My Little Pony doll that when you’d squeeze its ass, it’d say, in this order, “I love you,” “I’m pretty!” “I love you,” and “Comb my hair.” I’ve also been programmed to say such things when you squeeze my ass. A likely cause to my incessant need to be squeezed, told I’m pretty, love, and groom.

He recently broke up with his girlfriend of about four years and jumped right into a new relationship. I told him being alone is good and it teaches you how to take care of yourself which makes it easier for people to love you. It’s allowed me to be as picky as I want to be and figure out what it is I want in love.

He asked me what it is I’m looking for, and then it occurred to me: I’ve never really been in love. I mean, I’ve loved, or what I thought was love, but not really. I’ve never had that all consuming, can’t eat, can’t sleep, do anything for someone else, have someone do anything for me, kiss in the middle of a rainstorm, scream names from rooftops because it’s impossible to hold it in, his face at the end of the aisle, dying old and in each others’ arms kind of love. Like Jim and Pam or Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon or Bert and Ernie.

I’d like to think it exists, not just in movies, but in real life. I’d like to think that the life I’m living could be a great story, one to pass down to my children and their children and their children forever as solid, incontestable proof that it lasts and it’s real. I see it with my parents or grandparents, and even though it wasn’t always easy, that’s what I imagine when I think of love.

All this time, I’ve held onto the memories of that last relationship that I ended two years ago and all the memories of what would have been that creep into my mind as dreams in the middle of the night, taunting me with a life I thought I should’ve lived, thinking that was love. But that wasn’t love. Not really. It was contentment. It was five years of never meeting his friends, of waiting for him to come home, of making excuses for his behavior, of him buying me jewelry or flowers or taking me on trips to prove how much he loved me.

I went to a palm reader last week for my birthday, and she said I’ll have two great disappointments in my life: one that’s occurred and one that’s about to occur. These will force my heart closed, and I’ll never marry.

On the bright side, she said I’ll have two kids, so that’ll be fun to tell the family. I’m banking on mixed race babies. They’ll be beautiful.

And maybe I’m one of those people that get love in other ways, like through illegitimate children or degrees hanging on my wall or the occasional ass squeeze.

–AM.

That, my friends, is what “failure” sounds like.

7 Nov

My office door faces the lobby of our departmental offices. I use the term “office” loosely, because it really serves as a glorified storage closet. I’m currently staring at two stacks of about 36 boxes holding 6,897 books from some program that happened who knows how long ago. Other “office” decor: antiquated binders, cassette tapes, an archive of anthologies, pillows, and a broken coffee maker.

My desk is ridiculously and unnecessarily huge. There’s also a “conference” table which is made of two square tables with a set of six uncomfortable, foldable chairs. Last year, I had the office to myself because I worked for a federally funded program that paid for the room, and due to sensitive information, I was justified to have it all to myself. Since the funding has been cut, I now share it with two other instructors (one of which is BFF). As I said before, I don’t like to share. We’ve pushed the “conference” table/s against the gigantic desk to form a “collaborative workspace,” or what I like to call it, MegaDesk.

It’s not so bad sharing an office, except I’m easily distracted and easily distractible, so whenever I’m in here with anyone else, I get absolutely nothing done. For example, I’m currently sharing the office with BFF who is grading. I’m listening to 30Rock on Netflix and writing this blog. I would be grading, but I keep getting distracted and wanting to tell BFF things, like making smartass comments about the paper I was grading (“Many individuals believe they’re capable of operating a vehicle after one or two drinks until their car is totaled or worse, dead.” To which I reply, “Car is dead?”)

There was also one time when BFF and I were sharing a room on a study abroad trip and we were supposed to be writing essays in our hotel rooms in Athens, but I was distracted taking pictures of myself with a scarf wrapped around my head making angry faces in complete silence, causing BFF and other roommates to laugh and pass judgment, blaming me for their inability to write a paper. In my defense, I didn’t invite them to play with me.

The Scantron machine is right outside the office door, and every so often, another professor has a shit ton of Scantron tests to grade, so my brilliance is interrupted by the sweet sound of this:

It’s not unlike the sound my grandmother’s shih tzu makes when you blow in his face.

It makes me want to vomit on the stack of papers I have sitting in front of me that I grade instead of shoving it through a machine to tell me how well my students are doing. Such is the strife of teaching writing.

My only way of maintaining any semblance of sanity during these Scantron tests is to play little games with myself where I mimic the sound the machine makes, communicating mutual failure. I then pass judgment on the anonymous students whose responses anger the machine. I cheer inside when I hear only a few blips. It’s like I’m taking part of their victory because for a few seconds, I don’t want to strangle myself with a phone cord.

But, naturally, there is ne’er a thing to say because of my lowly, delicate position. The office is cold, it’s crowded, it’s poorly lit, but I have an office and I have a job. That’s something to be grateful about.

I also get to keep the sound of my students’ failures to myself, so there’s that.

–AM.

Like a cheap whore on a busy avenue.

6 Nov

One of the most delightful experiences in being a new instructor is the joy of having your superior observe your class, taking notes and scrutinizing on a four-page rubric that decides how well you function as a teacher, how well your students react to you, how well planned your lessons for that day were, and how well you “fit” into their design of the curriculum that you have the distinct honor to regurgitate to (un)willing receptacles of knowledge.

I recently had this exact pleasure. One of the chairs (yes, one of the chairs) sent me an email about a month ago wanting to schedule observations. I know it’s a terrible, terrible habit, but I really have a hard time planning out an entire semester for a class I’ve never taught, let alone at an institution I’ve never taught at. I don’t know how long it’s going to take me to cover the necessary topics. I pretty much wing it.

So I was faced with this pressure to come up with something brilliant that usually comes to me as I’m teaching or the day before I teach weeks ahead so my superior can come and tell me I’m good or a gigantic ball of flaming suck. I found a pretty fantastic lesson plan that I managed to tie into the assignment I had to teach, so I prepared for hours the night before, making copies, practicing the discussion in my head, imagining the worst case scenario where the angry racist student throws a chair that breaks into tiny pieces while the guy who hates me for giving him a bad grade pulls out a weapon of some sort — likely his fists — and begins attacking, bonobo style, the students around him out of sheer frustration and rage.

The superior came in and said “Just pretend I’m not here. I want you to act completely natural, completely normal. It’s not like you’ll get axed if today doesn’t go well.”

Yeah, sure. No pressure or anything, but that was basically a “don’t fuck up or you’ll be homeless and jobless next semester because you suck big time and you’ll get to live in a cardboard box and go to the shelter for food donations and all your pretty clothes will be worthless because bums don’t care how you look but the bright side is you’ll probably either get super skinny because you can’t afford to eat or you’ll get pulled into some sex ring where you’ll sell yourself for a quick score and you can die a cold and lonely death.”

Good thing my lecture went AWESOME. Every student spoke, they had smart things to say, they didn’t get side tracked, and most importantly, I didn’t even get yelled at. About an hour after class, I received an email from the other chair saying the chair who observed my class was delighted and my handouts were awesome and would I like to teach again next semester?? (Yeah, two question marks.) I said yes, of course, because being homeless scares me and I really like using make up and soap.

But through this experience, and many, many other days teaching when I had a bit too much to drink the night before/earlier that morning, and even days being a graduate student and asked to sit and write a few hundred pages on the spot to get ready for the upcoming assignments makes me realize just how much teaching/graduate-studenting is like being an actor, always performing.

Or it’s like being a trained monkey. I’m not a trained monkey. I can’t write on command. Actually, it’d be pretty cool to train a monkey to write on command. I’m sure someone, somewhere has done that. I’m sure that monkey could replace the seat of about 78% of my students. But, like a trained monkey, being a graduate student is all about performance.

In the precarious situation I — and all the other graduate student teachers delicately straddling the lines between student and teacher — face on a daily basis is the constancy of being on display, knowing superiors are lurking outside your doors or sitting in the back of your classroom, eagerly gripping their #2 pencils and frantically scrawling notes on a legal pad, or judging every word you put in front of them through papers you hand in or your contributions to classroom discussion.

Like a cheap whore on a busy avenue, the whole town’s watchin’.

–AM.

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