18 January 2009

A Story to Start Again

So classes started again on Monday. I was all a’ twitter Sunday night, laying out my clothes, packing my lunch, determined to make this my semester to stay on top of all grading, prep lectures weeks in advance and generally be an academic rock star. I jumped up with the 5 a.m. alarm, took the dog for a short walk in the snow and made it to the office in time to get all the necessary handouts in order before heading to the classroom. Being the first day, I even had a few nervous freshmen outside the classroom door at 7.45 a.m. Even more surprising, they weren’t hungover or wearing their pajamas. (I give them two weeks to be back to slackerdom, but still, good first impression.)

“How cute,” I thought. “They’re waiting outside the room because it’s dark and they want the teacher to go first.”

I boldly march in, determined to set the tone for a productive and engaging course.

And then I can’t figure out how to the turn on the damn lights.

I have a student hold the door to let in a flicker from the hallway while I search in vain for something resembling a switch. After several minutes, I was able to locate a promising set of buttons and started pushing, sliding, and general fiddling. No luck.

Priding myself on my innovative problem solving, I spy the overhead projector. Nothing like the old school technology to get you out of a bind. Hoping to not further deteriorate my teacher cred, I try to feel my way to the plug without electrocuting myself in the vain search for light. You know when you’re using your fingers to guide the plug into the socket you’re in trouble but desperate times call for much stupidity. Finally, I’m able to get enough of a glare to partially light the room by shining the projector onto the freshly cleaned whiteboard. I try to joke about it being “atmosphere” for our class and go in search of help from wiser college employees.

And nothing sets a good tone with the campus advising office like having to admit on the first day that you’re a recent hire who can’t turn on the lights in her classroom.

I apologize for my incompetence and smile sweetly as one of the secretaries calls the facility office to ask for someone to come up and help the ditzy English professor. Yeah, I can hear the laughs now as the secretary takes down the note for the first facilities guy to make it into the office.

We start class and the students seem willing to just go with the flow, especially since they’re still mostly asleep and rather shocked that I’m actually holding class rather than just handing them a syllabus and telling them to go back to bed. About twenty minutes into my oh-so-thrilling lecture on contemporary “thing theory” and materiality studies, our savior from facilities sticks his head into the door, reaches for the same box I was previously fiddling with and points to the teeny tiny dimmer part of the switch. Without saying a word, but flashing me a “you’re really stupid” grin, he casually blesses us with light and walks away, surely to share cackles with his cohorts about how all that education surely makes us teacher-types a little slow in the real world skills. He’s probably right.

I finished my good, stern warning about all the what-to-dos and what-not-to-dos of the class and shooed my students off to their next class before slinking back to the light switch, determined to figure out what this man knew that I did not. That’s “squints” for you, we’re inevitably curious about all manners of things we don’t understand. (Thanks to Bones for the nerd synonym.) Turns out I really did have the lights on the whole time, I just had them excessively dimmed.

Yep, a little dim sometimes...

So here’s to starting a new semester and another attempt at blogging. Hopefully my goofball beginning will lead to smooth sailing for the next few months, with only embarrassing but benign moments to bring to you all. I’m just hoping I can get through it without falling on the ice (something I managed to do at the end of last semester), falling in class (something I fear every time I start walking around the room or falling hopelessly behind, buried under a stack of papers and overwhelmed with an office of angry students.

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