Tomorrow starts finals week at UNLV. As I get to catch my breath and wind down from these last three and a half months of night teaching, here are a few thoughts and highlights from Fall 2010:
- One young woman in my remedial class wrote an essay about how she wasn’t sure if she should be in college, and how her heart wasn’t really in it. I edited it, then wrote that she has potential and can be successful, but needs to make a choice now and stick with it. I never got to give it back to her, though; she never came to class again after that.
- A young man in one of my classes is on a fall sports team. He emailed me once to say that he couldn’t be in class that day, because his team had to leave early for an away game that weekend. I appreciated the notice, except…our team played at home that week.
- In one class alone, four people had to drop because of conflicts with their work schedules.
- I had a student this semester who was a recent immigrant from Nigeria. His English was excellent, though heavily accented. He drove a cab 60 hours a week, and was a mechanical engineering major. He had the classic, strong immigrant work ethic: when I told him after the midterm that his grade so far was a C, he said that he did not want to be a C student, and went to our writing center for help on each major assignment after that. His final essay of the semester earned an A. He was going to take another class from me next semester, but he had a schedule conflict.
- I saw three former high school students of mine on campus this semester: one having lunch in the student union looked the other way and pretended she didn’t recognize me; another saw me in the lobby of a building setting up posters for an activity for an upcoming class and asked if I still worked at Centennial (I didn’t recognize him, but a quick conversation rang a bell–he reminded me of what jokes I used to tease him, and then I remembered); the third passed me as I graded papers in the student union and said, “Mr. Huston?” I remembered Chris right away–in all the years that I’ve used my classes to scout out good babysitters, he’s the only boy I’ve ever hired. He said he’d served a few years in the military, and was now finishing up a degree in education. “You inspired me!” he joked. I replied in kind, expressing my sorrow over his poor choice of major, adding that I hoped he’d sober up soon.
- I gave a handout to one class and asked them not to write on it. One young man not only did so, but drew graffiti-style tagging on it, including a drawing of a mushroom.
- One night, as a class worked on something, police sirens started wailing down the street just outside (Maryland Parkway, FYI). I said, “I bet this never happens at Harvard.” The class laughed. A few minutes later, another siren-blazing vehicle drove by.
- Last week, a student gave me a proselytizing “pass-along card” for our church. Apparently, he couldn’t tell I was already a member. I thanked him but said that I had plenty of my own at home. I’m thinking about giving him advice on his approach.
- On the first day of class, I asked everybody to tell me something interesting about themselves so I could learn their names better. One young man said that he was starting college a year late because he’d been suspended so many times his senior year. He quit coming after the second week of class.
- I got an email one afternoon from a young woman who said she couldn’t come to class that night. I get these emails all the time, but this one was special. She didn’t just say she was sick. She said she got sick in a class earlier in the day when the unhygienic odors of the girl sitting next to her made her nauseous. When she threw up in class, a young man sitting behind them said, “I thought I was the only one who could smell that!” The girl ran out of the class, and my student, upon seeing the teacher’s furious expression, blurted out, “That vein in your forehead looks like it’s gonna pop, Miss.” So she had to leave, too, for a couple of reasons. That story just has to be true. Nobody would invent it. I cleaned it up for you, a bit, if you couldn’t tell.
- A month into the semester, the English department asked if I’d take over a class for another teacher who wouldn’t be able to continue. This is the second time this has happened. The class was wonderful, and even though it stressed me out even further to have that much more work, I’m glad I did it.
- It happens every Fall. Over the summer, I exercise plenty, and this year I put on several pounds of muscle. When school starts, I coast on that for a few weeks, then I start getting tired. Then I get sick. By October, I’m coughing and lethargic, and any physical progress I made over the summer is long since gone. Then I get really negative. I mean especially cynical, even for me. By early December, I feel like I’ve been a zombie for over a month–every area of my life suffers. As the end finally draws near, I start to wake up, planning how to get back into the things I want and need to do–other than grade papers–for the few weeks I get off at night between semesters. It feels good to almost be alive again.