If I could actually practice all the Zen, Eastern, psychological techniques I've studied, this day would never happen at all. I would be the calm, cool, collected teacher, full of patience and understanding and love. I would let go, relax into the what is, use my higher mind, my greater purpose, my one eye to go above and beyond this. My pain body wouldn't come out, a pointy steel ball with fangs and let loose like a wild kickball. I would waft through my teaching day like so many clouds, free and full of nothing but air. I would contemplate nature, the essence of god or God or the divine.
But I'm not like that, at least, very often.
So at 2 pm on every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, I have a freshman composition class. Teaching at 2 pm is deadly--either people are hungry or full, tired or wired. Yesterday, the class slogged in, wet (California schools were not built for actual weather beyond sun, even though, well, yes, it rains here). Student X came in as he always did, hood on, earphones on, no book. Student Y came in along with him, his ear phones on as well. They were both slightly late, but in enough time to take the pop quiz, which I had announced the class before (yes, if I don't announce a pop quiz it's all too horrible).
Anyway, after the quiz and while we were grading and then talking about it, I realized that Student Y was still listening to his music and I could hear it. I asked him to remove the earphone. Then as I was talking again, Student X started to talk to his BFF, who sits next to him. They were kicking around a piece of garbage, laughing. I looked at Student X and Student Y--and to Student A and Student B, who were laughing and talking and joking with Student C, who is dating one of them, hard to tell.
Students # and $ and % and * (all international students and all who had passed the quiz--Students X, Y, A, B, and C had gotten 0 out of 10 points) were paying attention. Student P, my re-entry student, was probably wondering what he'd gotten himself into by coming back to school in the first place. As I asked a few questions, I realized that none of these students had managed to buy the short story collection we are reading,even though we are a week into it and the book has been on the syllabus since January. I stopped talking, feeling meltdown coming, the heat rising from my feet. Oh, no, I thought. Here it comes.
Student Meltdown Day--I haven't had one in a while. Once after a deadly and silent and horrible discussion about some important piece of literature, I put down the book, looked up and said, "Who has done the homework?"
Five people raised their hands.
I said, "The rest of you, get out! Go read. Don't come back to class until you do."
They stood up, walked out, all of them slightly horrified by what had just happened, and left.
The five students and I had a great time after that. Well, it wasn't great. No party favors. But a real discussion. No one listening to surreptitious headphones. No one asleep at the back of the classroom. No one drooling or doodling or texting his friends.
So yesterday, I looked at Student X. After the kicking garbage thing, I asked him to move to another desk. He did. We started writing, and I looked up, realizing that he was doing some other class' homework and was rocking out to his tunes again.
I said, "Student X, why are you here?"
"Why are you here? You could listen to music and do your homework in the cafeteria."
"Huh? Well, uh . . . ."
And then I went off about personal responsibility and respect for yourself and the teacher and the text. About school as a metaphor for how you will be in your life outside of school. There I was, in full meltdown, pontificating and full of calm but truly righteous indignation. I think I also called him a vampire, sucking off the energy and ideas of everyone around him.
Anyway, I slowly was taken offline, the reactor cooling. Student X decided to stay. He took off his music. He put away his biology book or whatever it was. He wrote.
After class, he scooted out with his BFF. Student A and B and C came to apologize, to tell me that things were going to change.
I nodded, and said, "Wonderful."
And I hope they do. I hope Student X will take himself seriously, enough to buy the book at least. Because I've seen some pretty amazing changes happen in a class. There can come a time when you take your life and turn it into something you can hold. I've watched students go from apathetic, to going through the motions, to actually realizing that this work in the community college is a metaphor for who they can be in the "real" and "more important" parts of the world. To get an A in a community college English class is to actually pull yourself out of one life and toward another. It's movement and growth and change. Along the way, they've learned something about literature and writing and expression of feeling. So they will likely never think about the short stories by Ann Beattie or TC Boyle again, the authors we were talking about yesterday. Or maybe they will; they will remember how the one character looks back on her life and realizes she doesn't want to think about it--maybe they won't want to have a life like that, one of aborted desires and hopes. They don't want a life of loss and secrecy.
May teacher meltdown come only biannually, at that.
Causes Jessica Inclán Supports
Women for Women International Goodwill Industries Lindsey Wildlife Museum Freecycle.org