Saturday, December 5, 2009

Quote of the Day: Dylan Thomas, Steve McNair, & Non Sequiturs

ME: Okay, turn to "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night." Dylan Thomas wrote this in honor of his dying father. It's a poem about valuing light--I mean life--in the wake of death. Just sit while I read it & then we'll disc--
STUDENT (we'll call her "Melissa"): Speaking of death, you know the girl that killed Steve McNair? I used to work w/ her, and she gave me a lap dance at a Christmas party. She really is crazy.
*Awkward class silence*
ME: "Do not go gentle into that good night / Old age should burn and rave at close of day; / Rage, rage against the dying of the light..."

Monday, November 30, 2009

Quote of the Day

ME: Alright, today we're gonna examine Thomas Carlyle's political philosophy.
STUDENT: Carlisle? I love Carlisle!
ME: Oh, really? Nice. Would you say his views of government mirror your own?
STUDENT: What?...Sorry. I thought we were discussing Twilight.

Word of the Day

A student used the word "haughty" today. I haven't heard that word in a while. It made me smile.

Friday, October 16, 2009

How to Use Wit as Classroom Discipline

[Man pushes the handicap button on a door]
GIRLFRIEND: What'd you do that for?
MAN: For you! You're handicapped mentally AND physically.

The above conversation happened while I was at the local library. The location is not what makes this post academic (although, I suppose one could compose a clever enough argument). The boyfriend's quip makes it so.

A quick tongue is one of the best ways to keep classroom order. This is good advice for secondary teachers as well. Students often test authority by making borderline comments that aren't necessarily insubordinate yet aren't necessarily deferential. In these moments an instructor can cement his or her control. Instead of letting a student smudge the line of classroom discipline, a teacher's well-placed remark can quell an avalanche of future borderline comments. The question then is how do you know what to say in a given situation? Follow these 3 easy steps, and you won't have problem.

1. Remember that speed is more important than quality. Responding quickly, even if it's mediocre, has a great deal of impact. Even if your quip is generic, the faster you say something, the more confident it sounds, and the more people are likely to buy it. You're a teacher, not a stand up comic. Any well-timed line that comes out of your mouth will be greeted w/ a positive response. In the world of comebacks, timing trumps quality.

2. Sun Tzu says, "if you know what your opponent is going to do before he does it, you can defeat him." Prepare ahead of time. Whether it's in-class comments or typed essays, students generally say the same things. This means you can anticipate what's going to be said, and provide an adequate defense. This is especially useful for females. Male students tend to make sexist--even sexual--comments. You can deflect those and in the process, get some of the female students on your side by rolling your eyes, looking at a few other ladies, and saying something like, "We all know what to expect when a guy talks like that."

3. Know your audience. Comebacks are about subtly defending yourself. So you never want to use them as offense. Smart aleck teachers are a turn off. But quick-witted ones who can keep trouble makers in check are enjoyable. But you must be aware of what you can say. You don't want to be offensive (At the secondary level, it will definitely get you in trouble). And you don't want to be incindiary (At the post-secondary level, that could lead to more, not fewer verbal battles).

Ultimately, the key is to needle them to the degree to which they needle you. Not more. It's not about out macho-ing someone else. It's about reducing distractions, so you can focus on what's important. That's why I like to chuckle, make my comment, and then continue with what I'm discussing almost as if what the student said was as harmless and unthreatening as a lady bug crawling across the floor.

Hope this helps!

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Mind of Samuel Johnson

[I]t is the mind which knows the power of its own potentially disruptive propensities that needs and demands to be disciplined."
--Donald Davie

"If we owe regard to the memory of the dead, there is yet more respect to be paid to knowledge, to virtue, and to truth."
--Samuel Johnson, "On Biography"

I first became interested in Samuel Johnson while reading Simon Winchester's excellent The Professor and the Madman,an insightful book that traces "a tale murder, insanity, and the making of the Oxford English Dictionary." Winchester discusses Johnson as a preeminent academic, a scholar whose research, poetry, and criticism shaped the English language and epitomized 18th century thought. This portrait piqued an interest that grows yearly.

Johnson's commentaries on form and style are built upon an adherence to classic Greek and Roman literature and how those literatures have affected classic British literature. This observance of form and and conformity to established modes, attract me. I'm not sure why; I enjoy writers who use old methods to approach new things. Literary antitheses--both in authors and their works--add complexity to that which may already be fascinating.

In The Life of Samuel Johnson, James Boswell describes Johnson as "sufficiently uncouth," but his disheveled appearance belied his strict attention to intellectual and scholarly order. In fact, Boswell remarks that all of his" slovenly particularities were forgotten the moment that he began to talk." This contrast between a messy, disarranged exterior and an orderly, encyclopedic intellect reflects the complexities of a man born to write poetry but who lived in an age of prose.

I just hope the next time I get to teach his life and works, I will pass on to my students the fascination I have with the "glittering eminence" of Dr. Johnson.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Quote of the Day: Sex & Poetry--A Love Story

"Ya know, when I first read the poem, I kept thinking of the male body part. But then I said, 'Nah, that's not right. People don't write poems about sex. When did they start doing that?'"
--One of my students after reading, "Down, Wanton Down"

The misconceptions about language, literature, and writing can provide some of the best discussion fodder. I've copied and pasted the poem in question below. If you don't know what "wanton" means, go to for clarification.

Down, Wanton, Down by Robert Graves

Down, wanton, down! Have you no shame
That at the whisper of Love's name,
Or Beauty's, presto! up you raise
Your angry head and stand at gaze?

Poor bombard-captain, sworn to reach
The ravelin and effect a breach--
Indifferent what you storm or why,
So be that in the breach you die!

Love may be blind, but Love at least
Knows what is man and what mere beast;
Or Beauty wayward, but requires
More delicacy from her squires.

Tell me, my witless, whose one boast
Could be your staunchness at the post,
When were you made a man of parts
To think fine and profess the arts?

Will many-gifted Beauty come
Bowing to your bald rule of thumb,
Or Love swear loyalty to your crown?
Be gone, have done! Down, wanton, down!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Why Can't I Teach British Literature When I Love It So Much?

"Placed at the door of learning, youth to guide,
We never suffer it to stand too wide.
To ask, to guess, to know, as they commence,
As fancy opens the quick springs of sense"
--Alexander Pope, "The Dunciad"

As a 2nd semester freshman, I sat in Dr. Duke Pesta's British Lit class, mesmerized by the way he imbued with life Donne's amorous flea, Jonson's deceased son, and Shakespeare's dark-haired lady. I would sit in my desk, bubbling w/ impatience so that I could get back to the dorm and read the next class' assignment. I waited for the delicious opportunity to teach my own literature class so that I, too, could bring contemporary color to what college students thought was outdated, insipid language.

This semester I was excited to finally teach British Literature, the class that jumpstarted my imagination and revealed what a good teacher could do with a good text. However, this semester, I've feel as though my lectures "blind [the] rebel wit" and "confine the thought[s]" of my students. Now, in brief snatches, I can feel the interest of the class rise as I connect a particular analogy or bring forth a particular point. But often, the room is filled with a muted silence. I speak but my words are arid, they write but their notes are dead.

I am rarely able to create or sustain the exuberance produced in my undergrad Brit Lit classes. I can with American Lit; I love assigning works like Walden Pond, works students find perplexing or irrelevant, only to show them the depth of thought and the relevance of subject matter presented. But I've been unable to reproduce that effect with works like Aeropagitica. Oddly enough, the lit class that students respond most enthusiastically to is Experiencing Lit, my least favorite and the one I feel least confident teaching.

I know one day I, too, will "speak out loud and bold" like Chapman translating Homer, but it may take a bit longer than I anticipated. Of course, I believe I can get things moving northward by Fall Break. Perhaps my optimism springs from all those Romantic poems I gotta teach.

Friday, October 2, 2009

To the Teachers, don't Make Too Much Time

"Then be not coy, but use your time, / And while ye may, go marry;"
--Robert Herrick, "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time"

When I first began teaching, I tried desperately to stay 2 weeks ahead of my classes. But no matter how I hard I worked to keep my planning and heading on that time curb, it never happened. I always found myself scrambling to get lectures and class activities together the day of or (even worse) while in class.

Now that I have a better sense of a semester's rhthym, I am much better prepared. But I'm still not quite 2 weeks ahead. Sometimes, it's a week; sometimes, it's a few hours. But that's okay. In fact, I think it's best. Two weeks ahead may be too much. If my preparation is too far removed from the day it is intended for, the timing of my ideas can ebb. My intimacy with a text--even one I've taught many times--isn't as personal as I'd like, which effects the syncronicity of my performance.

The energy, even urgency, created by the close proximity of class preparation and in-class appearance may help bring forth a sense of immediacy, an immediacy perhaps lost when the lecture's been prepared weeks ahead of schedule.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Beauty of Detail: Style, Grammar, & Essays

"In small proportions, we just beauties see; / And in short measures, life may perfect be."
--Ben Jonson, "To the Immortal Memory and Friendship of that Noble Pair"

This semester, I've tried to teach grammar on the days where students bring in their rough drafts. So far, those classes have gone well. They turn in their papers this week, and so I'll be able to measure their application of the principles.

In the past, I've tried to mark style and grammar errors on papers, believing that by revising, they will understand their errors. Only the exceptional students are able to learn this way. The rest just rewrite the sentences. Like a blindfolded dart thrower, they hope that their newest attempt will yield success, but they don't know until they see the results. I want them to know. Unlike satire, style and grammar are not "myster[ies] of the noble trade" that "no master can teach to his apprentice."

So hopefully, in class instruction coupled with out of class direction will make more effectual their capacity for understanding the labyrinth of English style and grammar.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Teaching (British) Lives

"Poets are made of poems and other literary works from a past that especially engages them and of works by near antecedents and contemporaries that embed themselves in whole or in part in their imaginations."
--Michael Schmidt, Lives of the Poets

This semester I've been teaching Brit Lit. I was excited to do so because I knew this course would give me a chance to supplement my literary background by reading works I either haven't read or haven't read since undergrad. The details of Beowuf, M'orte D'Arthur, and A Modest Proposal had faded from memory. Now their best passages dance nimbly on the tongue's tip.

Yet beyond the texts, outside reading such as Michael Schmidt's Lives of the Poets have given my lectures (and my knowledge) a background that has made literature newer, exciting, and more complex. My interest in writers' biographies continues to evolve. As Schmidt says, "as speakers, each of us is an inadvertent anthologist." Hopefully, I will be able to incorporate my growing interests into more than just my lectures.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

John Wooden, Marianne Moore, and the Tradition of Learned Reading

The legendary college basketball coach John Wooden began everyone of his basketball seasons the same way: by teaching his players the most elementary of functions--putting on their shoes and socks. He did it slowly, punctiliously describing his movements. Why take the time to go over this simple action? I imagine that the attention to detail included in it a lesson that went beyond merely how to put on one's clothes.

On Saturday, a former student informed me that my literature classes has helped her greatly since she's transferred to Vanderbilt. She said that my lectures on how to read and how to take notes while reading has helped prepare her for a more rigorous reading schedule (apparently Vanderbilt pushes you harder than community colleges do). She also said that my daily quizzes got her used to reading and looking for details. (My favorite reading quiz question of all-time remains "What was Marianne Moore's favorite baseball team?") The answer requires the student to not just read the assigned poems but to have the discipline to read the biography section on the writer. (The answer is the Brooklyn Dodgers.)

I enjoy the quizzes because they show students that reading can be a leisure activity, but when doing it for school, a focus and seriousness should accompany it. Earlier this semester, my Experiencing Lit class read "Teenage Wasteland." One of the questions was "a version of the song 'Teenage Wasteland' is the theme song for what tv show." A student wrote on his paper, "that was not in the reading." I marked the answer wrong and wrote back, "it was in the footnotes." Detail. Fastidiousness. Focus.

Now, I'm no Vivian Bearing (look her up), but I do want to push my students, not for the sake of simply being hard and definitely not to give myself more work to grade but to show them that meticulous work brings forth its own rewards, whether in a work setting, on a quiz, or at Vanderbilt. Good luck, Jess!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Learning Who I Am in a 10 x 12 Room

"But today I realize I've never really known what it means to be Chinese. I am thirty-six years old. My mother is dead and I am on a train, carrying with me her dreams of coming home. I am going to China [...] I look at their faces again and I see no trace of my mother in them. Yet they still look familiar. And now I also see what part of me is Chinese. It is so obvious. It is my family. It is in our blood. After all these years, it can finally be let go."
--Amy Tan, "A Pair of Tickets"

The excerpt above is from Amy Tan's short story, "A Pair of Tickets," which discusses, among other things, the importance of setting, how you are and how you think can be changed, influenced, or defined by where you are.

As a first time, full-time professor, I know what Tan is referring to (to a certain degree). This may be a small thing to some, but this is my first semester where I have my own office. I do share it with an office mate, but I don't have an adjunct office that I share with a host of other people (and apparently, their students). I have my computer, my phone, and my desk.

I have a home base. And to my surprise, I am a more efficient teacher. The day is much more controlled; I rush less. And I get more work done sooner. I cannot completely attribute this to an office: I have fewer classes (but oddly enough am paid more)and am more experienced. But having somewhere to keep my stuff and somewhere to go before and after class makes teaching easier.

So, although I'm not Chinese and my office is not the city of Guangzhou, and more efficient teaching does not compare to uncovering part of my heritage, I'd like to think that what I'm learning this semester is helping me discover at least part of the identity that will allow me to become the great teacher I know I can be.

Monday, April 13, 2009

You Wrote This Because You Hate Me or Grading the Research Essays of College Freshmen

“Words are something; but to be exposed to an endless battery of mere sounds to be long dying; to lie stretched upon a rack of roses; to keep up langour by unintermitted effort…these are faint shadows of what I have undergone.”
--Charles Lamb, “A Chapter on Ears”

Ask any teacher. Grading is the most frustrating aspect of the art. Rarely is it a satisfying symphony of what they’ve learned but a mettlesome reminder of what they haven’t. This past week I’ve graded a heap of poorly written, half-plagiarized research essays. And never have I been more burdened by the process of marking up papers.

I can’t understand how things I tested them on less than 2 months ago cannot be transferred to writing. I know I’m not teaching English majors or even English enthusiasts, and I understand that they aren’t going to approach essay writing with much gusto. But I can attribute so many of their problems to lack of effort or careless attention to detail. Those things have little to do with writing talent or high school teaching.

I’m starting to realize that what I do for an expository writing class I’m going to have to do for a research one. That means I’m going to provide them with a very rigid structure and very specific rules. I won’t be able to control their languid research, which is where most of their problems arise, but I will be at least be able to take out some of the overwhelming aspects of it by giving them a very clear vision of what I want their papers to look like. That should help a little bit.

Unfortunately, I can't supervise how much work they’re going to put into their research. No matter what rules I put in place, they always find a way to circumvent them and avoid accomplishing what the rules were intended to help them achieve. I can put restrictions on the types of sources they can use (no websites, nothing that doesn’t have an author, etc.), which can force them to do more work than they normally do. But even that won’t combat completely what I’m trying to eliminate: laziness and apathy.

Hmmm…Maybe I should institute an annotated bibliography.

The Raw Material in All Its Rawness: Lectures on Frost & Eliot's Poetry

"Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume?"
--T.S. Eliot, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference"
--Robert Frost, "The Road Not Taken"

There’s something funny about literature classes. I know the modus operandi for most professors is to induce discussion through though-provoking questions. But all my best professors were lecturers who spoke much and asked little. So that’s what I do. Sometimes class discussions spill forth naturally like a beer stein that’s been filled without regard to the ubiquitous foam. I enjoy the talking and the questioning.

I’ve just learned best from lectures, and I do believe that well done lecturing can be just as effective as any other classroom format. It depends mostly on the talents of the given teacher.

Well, last week I taught Robert Frost in my American Lit class. And I was amazed at how many students felt compelled to offer explanations for what he said and theories to what he meant. With the exception of a brave few, they are content to let me speak. But something about Frost invites them to speak out. His open-ended poems, his colloquialisms, his disarming use of meter encourages students to see his work less as a verbal labyrinth and more as an invitation to talk.

Obviously, part of his appeal is that, like certain epics, we feel as if we’ve somehow heard them before even if we haven’t. “Fire and Ice,” “The Road Not Taken,” “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening” seem to inject into students a measure of loquaciousness often reserved for post-class chatter w/ their friends. For students, Frost’s contemporary T.S. Eliot does not receive the same level of enthusiasm. Though I find Eliot’s anthologized work more fun to dig through, I’m careful not to mistake accessibility with simplicity.

I’ve read more of Eliot, enjoy him more, and am tempted to pronounce him the superior poet. But I must be fair to Frost, and I must remember both sat down with different objectives in mind. Simply saying one is better than the other would be like saying that group discussions are better teaching methods than lectures. Both are potentially effective means of teaching, but so much depends on the teacher’s abilities and the students’ sensibilities. Declaring one to be clearly better than the other is to wrongly characterize an objective standard. Comparing the two is like comparing the drawings of an engineer and an architect.

Perhaps Frost v. Eliot isn’t the best way to discuss them, perhaps the best way is to juxtapose them and let the similarities and differences fall where they may. Maybe poetry, like teaching methods, are best when you have them working in the hands of respective masters, not comparing them in a conversation that isn’t really about what you’re discussing in the first place.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Teacher's Field Trip

“I wouldn’t let Pete Rose use my bathroom or anything, but I think he should be in the Hall of Fame.”
--Sarah Bunting, Baseball & Lit Conference

This week’s classes were cut short by a Friday conference on Baseball and Literature. Since I wrote my Master’s thesis on several baseball novels where I examined the ways in which the baseball star is presented as an archetypal hero mirroring ancient champions like Achilles and King Arthur, I feel it’d be irresponsible and lazy of me not to present at this conference. Also, the conference is at one of the schools I teach at. And my thesis directors are the organizers. I don’t mean to sound like my participation is forced. It isn’t. It’s just implicit that I will produce something to present, an act I am very proud to perform.

Ah, the academic conference. A reunion of sorts where like-minded men and women gather to discuss, sometimes debate matters that deal specifically with their fields of interest. Conferences are a good excuse to travel and socialize. The culture of the conference often mirrors the content, which in turn, mirrors the people drawn to the particular content. For example, a Virginia Wolf conference is (from secondhand accounts, not firsthand experience) a bit stuffy and slightly snobbish. Questions after a presentation resemble declarations of what the presenter got wrong. Consequently, a pop culture conference is a little more convivial. Questions are, in fact questions, and post-presentation discussions are rarely intended to be an informal game of Trivial Pursuit.

I loved Mrs. Dalloway, by the way.

So as it has been for the past 3 years I’ve been involved with it, the conference went well. The keynote speaker was Dr. Harriet Hamilton, a professor at Alabama A & M whose father played in the Negro Leagues. The main speaker was “Mudcat” Grant, a former 20 game winner for the Cleveland Indians who roomed with important figures like Larry Doby and Curt Flood. Grant spoke about his experiences playing during segregation and about learning how to pitch.

My paper was not as interesting. That said, it was on the 20th century shift from the boxer to the baseball player as the preeminent American sports hero worked well. Only about a page of it came from my thesis. The rest was new material where I discussed Harry Stein’s Hoopla, which I mentioned only briefly in my thesis’ conclusion.

Conferences are the key to establishing and maintaining contacts. They also allow us to stay current on the latest ideas in our field. This Friday, I was able to hear some new takes on baseball’s usage in academia. And I was informed of a position opening at a school in Alabama (and encouraged to apply).

Monday, March 23, 2009

My Argument is Your Opinion

"The gap between what someone tells you and what you know [to be] true--that's where the jokes are."
--Bill Maher, "Religulous"

The beauty of words is that, if arranged correctly, they can convey thoughts and moods from one person to another. The challenge comes in making the listener’s ears and mind hear and understand what you’re trying to convey. I find this to be especially true with students. This week, I’ve been meeting one-on-one with my students about their research argumentative essays. I was amazed at the number of them who, instead of presenting arguments on a specific issue, wrote reports on their topics. For example, if they wanted to write about abortion, they were to pick a side and argue that side, not merely tell me what it is and the many ways it can be done.

When I mentioned this to them, they said, “oh, so you want me to write my opinion?” That one word opinion conveyed to them what we’d spent the whole first part of the semester talking and testing about. I kept wondering to myself, “what did they think I meant by persuasion and argumentation?” What did they think I meant by “argumentative essay?” What did they think I meant by “take a side on a particular issue?” I think part of the communication gap stemmed from 2 words, one I used and one I didn’t.

The first was “research.” No matter what I said leading up to or after it, their idea of a research paper did not extend beyond being an informative essay. The second word was “opinion.” For some reason, “argumentative,” “persuasion,” or “rhetorical” does not resonate with students like the word “opinion.” From now on, when I teach argumentative essays (especially research ones), argument and opinion will be ubiquitous. I want the words to be inseperable in their minds.

Relearning connotations takes time. A word like “rhetoric” sounds so ancient and foreign that they’ve probably never really bothered to think much about its meaning, and “argument” is connected so deeply with verbal fighting that shaking loose these mindsets can’t be easily done in a semester. Likewise, the word opinion is so closely associated with being a position that another person can legitimately disagree with that introducing them to another word that’s already linked to a related, yet altogether different concept is no mean task. My comfort comes in that, eventually, they will get it, that I don’t have to teach them everything. Other professors in other classes are fighting the same battles, and at some point, intellectual development will occur.

Friday, March 13, 2009

What College Professors Do on Spring Break

“I remember my father saying that early in his teaching career he would ask himself at the beginning of each term, ‘Have I read enough to be a good teacher?’ And he would have to answer, ‘No, not yet.’”
--Kim Stafford, The Muses Among Us

The week of spring break, for the professor, is punctuated with very little of the merriment that their students associate with it. We still enjoy the time away from classes and students and, if we’re lucky, the campus. But it’s still filled with work; the luxury is that you get to pick the time and place to do it. This is more of a treat than it sounds.

I spent several Sbux hours grading midterms...many, many midterms. The freedom to work several straight hours on so single minded a task is not often afforded during the active parts of the semester. Strangely, I enjoyed the freedom I dedicated towards my slavish workload. I still have about 15 lit papers to grade, though.

But I didn’t just work. I visited an art gallery. I went to a bar/club (Don’t ask. Even I’m not sure why I went). I read Kim Stafford’s excellent letter/poem/essay/book on writing and creativity, "The Muses Among Us." I spent a day at the hospital supporting my father while he received a pacemaker. I wrote in my notebook. I accidentally ran over a kitten. I went to dinner w/ friends. I watched Bill Maher’s entertaining and thought provoking (yet rhetorically flawed) documentary "Religulous." I basked in one of my childhood pastimes by watching my favorite 90s action star’s latest movie: "JCVD." I participated in some beer brewing at a friend’s cookout. I ran. I watched a sextuple overtime college basketball game until 12:30 am w/ my dad. I recommended several books. I loaned a book. I went book shopping. I borrowed a book. And I answered emails from students who spent more of their Spring Break in the library than on the beach.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Midterm Curve

“As it was, I had to find some way to pass the time and trick my students into believing that they were getting an education.”
--David Sedaris, from “The Learning Curve”

As I kid, when teachers said that they learn from us, I was always a little confused because I didn’t understand how something we could say could enlighten them. But the more I teach, the more I think the teachers were referring to what they learned about teaching, not about the particular subject being discussed.

So this past week, I assigned midterms. I don’t often assign exams in writing classes, but tests, like papers, give me a clear idea of what students are and are not learning. Besides the obvious lessening of the grading load, I really get a sense of who’s paying attention and taking detailed notes.

With papers, it’s a bit easier to hide behind good word choice and solid syntax like a child with a lisp who learns to avoid “s” words. But with tests, even essay tests, I get a clearer sense of what students are actually learning, what concepts they can actually discuss intelligently.

In both my writing and lit classes, I’ve been pleased with my students’ ability to memorize and regurgitate information. Since tests (even essay tests) are less abstract than essays, students better prepare themselves for the day or reckoning, whereas with papers, they seem to prime themselves with about as much urgency as an overworked server getting the final refill on the final table of a 14 hour double shift.

Bringing the focus back to me, students generally miss the same answers on tests and generally make the same mistakes on papers as their classmates, which can highlight my errors just as much as theirs. And because of that possibility of our own failure, don’t we all grade on a curve, even if we don’t tell them?

Saturday, February 28, 2009

College Folk Hero...Well Sort Of

“[S]he seemed to follow the rules and customs of some exotic, faraway nation where the citizens drilled the ground for oil paint and picked pastels from the branches of stunted trees. Without copying anyone else, she had invented her own curious personality, which I envied even more than her artistic ability.”
--David Sedaris, from “Twelve Moments in the Life of the Artist”

Last week Adrian, one of my freshmen writing students told me that, to his friends I’m like some sort of folk hero. Apparently, he is roommates with another one of my students from another writing class, and they sometimes sit around and tell Professor Bush stories. Adrian told me how his girlfriend, his other roommate, and the people in his band aren’t sure if I really exist.

Another writing student in a 3rd class, told me something similar. She said that I reminded her of her boyfriend and that when she tells him stories about me he says, “that’s something I would say! I wanna meet this guy!” When she told me that, I commented that if I started a fan club, he’d be my choice for president. She just shook her head and said, “No. You two must never be allowed to meet…Although, he probably would take you up on the offer.”

The funny thing about these comments is that I want to be a campus character. One of the attractive aspects of being a college professor is that you can develop a reputation (and later a legend) based on outrageous things you’ve said and funny things you’ve done.

To a certain degree, isn’t that what all of us want, to be recognized and appreciated by the community of which we’re a part? Whether it’s the Hollywood community that the whole world sees or part of an obscure Guinea tribe known only be specialists of that region, don’t we all want an identity that we can point to and take pride in?

But I have to admit: something Adrian said validated his “folk hero” comment. Before leaving the empty classroom, he turned around and said, “and besides all the memorable moments, you’re also a great teacher. That’s what makes it so fun.”