Saturday, August 24, 2013

You wish you had a student like this...

In my class, only the best            “Barry, will you teach this class?”

When I’m asked that way, I sense our Dean’s secretary is desperate. At least, when she exhales “Thank you!” it seems that way. Usually, her request means another lecturer has bailed out of a Humanities class filled with Huck Finns from Auto Repair or members of our college’s baseball team.

But yesterday’s class wasn’t one of those. All but one student sat at attention, appeared eager to learn. As they introduced themselves, I learned I had a classroom filled with brainy RN’s, engineers, radiologists, and dental hygienists; the one who slouched and pouted a bit was my tiny artist in graphic design.

Unlike the others, her focus appeared to be elsewhere; she was different, aloof. Not until the class ended did I see why it might be difficult to make her part of the class.

“Do you have a minute?” I asked her.

Although I didn’t want to single her out, I did want to let her know that I respected her talents as much as those of the left-brained folks who sat at the front of the room. Indeed, before I spoke, I thought of James Joyce’s Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man. My student seemed to have a different take on reality, a much different was to communicate her ties to it.

She walked toward me, stopped a few feet away, respectful but distant.

“I’d like you to consider doing something,” I said, as I tried not to focus on her piercings, four studs arranged around her lips as well as a small steel ball just below her lip; it matched the one on the tip of her tongue. From the back of the room where she’d been, I hadn’t been able to discern those adornments.

“As you read this book,” I said as I pointed to a copy of the Holocaust novel, Light One Candle, “I’d like you to do something different. If you will, I’d like you to illustrate your responses to that book, to the things that strike you in it.”

She didn’t smile, wasn’t appreciative. But she didn’t frown either. She nodded, turned and walked away. I wondered whether talking was difficult with so much metal in and around her mouth.

“I may never know,” I told myself. Although all of my students had left, I noticed that a stocky young man in jeans and a well-worn polo shirt had come to my desk.

After a most interesting class that was much better than I’d anticipated, my welcome may have sounded bubbly.

“What can I do for you?” I asked.
“Is this Humanities 165 with Mr. Koplen?”

“Yes sir, that’s me,” I said. “How can I help you, young man?”

“I just signed up for your class. I was told there was one spot open.”

I tried not to grin at hearing that; my roll had a targeted limit of 24. Unless someone had dropped, he was 25.

But I didn’t mind. The class was that good; this student seemed interested and well behaved. I had no reason to expect any more surprises that morning.

“Welcome to the class,” I said, reaching out to shake hands.

“You may want this.” I accepted the form from my new student the Dean’s secretary had prepared. I read it carefully. Then I paused before I spoke.

“Let me tell you what you missed, Amanda.”

                                                B.Koplen 8/24/13

Friday, August 23, 2013

If you had a student like this...

The Badass     Day one. Seated in the middle row at the desk in the middle of the room was my antagonist; grim and lanky, his t-shirt boasted NEW YORK. Matching that was an accent that resembled an edgy cadence from a West Side Story villain.

None of the rest of the class bucked him; I did. When I answered questions the other students asked, he chided me. Most were from Auto Repair, a collegiate program that teaches body and engine repair. All were men; many wore camo baseball caps. A few acted out, as if determined to make themselves into stereotypical hardasses who had no use for a class in Humanities.

One of them spoke out. Three times he quipped, “So you teaching us English?” in a way that projected his attempt to sound provocative, mean, indifferent. It didn’t work; he wasn’t a ringleader. Each time, I met his stare and carefully explained what I expected of him, of the class.

Most, I could tell, were not under the sway of the brash and arrogant New Yorker; I knew that young man had to be neutralized. I had no trouble doing just that.

“You have a problem,” I said, staring straight into his cold eyes. I was dismissive. My hope was that he’d answer in a disruptive way so that I could invite him to leave. Instead, he backed down from my stare, slumped in his chair.

Chances are that he will drop my class; he didn’t do the work I asked the others to do. He seemed determined to be disruptive; I was determined to maintain a double dialogue. All the while I conducted class with the others, I flashed a glance at him, as if defying him to disrupt.

He didn’t. If anything, ours was a standoff. Like boxers in separate corners, we’d sparred. But I knew the game better than he. He slinked out of class when I dismissed everyone. I’d hoped he would come to the front to resolve our encounter.

Mine was a tough guy act, always necessary on the first day whenever I’m given a classroom of the auto guys. They like to appear aloof as if, as the song goes, they “don’t need no education.” I knew better.

“Hand in your papers, and you may leave,” I instructed. “See you next week.”

All of them left. With interest, I read their work; most were very literate, very able to express themselves. Theirs was a thin veneer I’d learned to anticipate, learned how to help them shed.

Their answers were thoughtful, provocative in a good way, completely at odds with the image they tried to project. All but the New Yorker handed in their work.

He and I might have to do battle again, but I doubted it. Bullies don’t last long in my classes. I have too many good kids to educate to let that happen.

If he has the courage to stay with us and to handle what will be my next barrage of questions, he’ll be one too before the semester ends.

                                    B.Koplen  8/23/13

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Wish you could have been there...

And the winner is…              “Yes, you may teach the course, but at a reduced pay scale,” I was told when I asked about having ‘only’ six students for my poetry writing class. For me, six seemed a good number; with too many poets in one class, it’s impossible to give enough personal attention.

I hadn’t been thinking of that this morning when I visited a nearby antique mall comprised of many booths with very different offerings. In one, I found a German beer stein that looked a perfect gift for my fellow lecturer, Bernie. I knew he’d love it, knew it would come as a surprise.

At our adjunct meeting that night, I planned to give it to him.

Because I was thirty minutes late, he chided me when I arrived. Our buffet had almost finished; he had eaten. When I sat across from him with my tray, I explained my tardiness by telling him I had to get something for him. He seemed puzzled.

I handed him the stein I’d placed in a manila envelope. “Open it carefully,” I instructed.

He did. Instantly, he beamed. “I love it,” he told me as I wolfed down my last bite of very dry chicken.

We sat in a room filled with other adjuncts. Many I knew; like me, they’d been teaching at the college for years. Like me, they’d seen their acceptable class sizes almost double as a means of cutting costs. Fourteen pupils was the norm when I started there; now it is 24-30.

But none of us complained; we shared an equal burden. All of us hoped things would get better eventually.

To my surprise, we didn’t have a guest speaker. I figured that was another cost-cutting measure, a disappointing one because we’ve had some great presentations in the past.

This time, their tactic for keeping us interested was being brief. Although they did that well, there was only one bright spot, a highlight of sorts.

Our Vice President announced, “Now is time to present the adjunct of the year award.”

Quiet prevailed. All of us knew that the award came with an attractive check that most of us could use.

“He’s taught English 111, and his students have endorsed him,” said the V.P. “He has done everything we’ve ever asked him to do. He’s a very disciplined educator.”

I looked around. So far, I could only think of a few adjuncts he might be describing.

“When he retired from teaching at our local high school, there was an article about him in the paper. It announced that a legend had left.”

With that, the Vice President offered the plaque and a check to my old friend, Bernie.
He put down the envelope with his mug, ambled toward the podium.

I stood up to applaud. Finally, though it had taken years, our Community College had done the right thing. A lecturer who had done so much for so many students had been appropriately congratulated.

Bernie and I left the meeting together. For the first time in years, I was very glad I’d come.

                                                B.Koplen 8/22/13

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Not a good thing to do...

Stealing VW’s               “It’s gone, not here,” I said, wondering whether I was looking for my car, a tattered and very old VW Beetle, in the wrong place. Because there weren’t many cars on the street, I quickly scanned all of them. Minutes before, I had left the only movie theater in St. Thomas, V.I. During the two hours I had watched the feature, a thief, in broad daylight, had stolen my rattletrap.

But for a story I just read about a similar incident in Boulder, CO, my missing car saga would have remained buried history. In my case, my car was eventually found. So, too, was the car in Boulder, a black Jetta.

Mystery surrounds both cases. But the one in Colorado resulted in an interesting revelation. According to Dylan Stableford of Yahoo! News (Woman finds stolen car when its new driver stops at crosswalk where she's walking), the thief was well known to football fans in Boulder:

Payne, a former University of Colorado running back, was dismissed by the team earlier this year. According to the Daily Camera, he was suspended from the team in March for violating team rules, and in June was ruled academically ineligible to play.

Which “rules” Payne violated wasn’t mentioned; it was reported that he was caught because he stopped to let the owner of the car cross in front of him. Not long after that, the police caught up with the man and arrested him.

In addition to wondering whether the police would have eventually spotted the Jetta thief before the car was delivered to a chop shop, I wondered whether that was the only car Payne had stolen. All that I do know from the story is that the car was returned and no one was killed.

I am pleased to report the same about my old VW. However, although no one was harmed my car was found, the story had a much different ending.

Police in St. Thomas never found my car, one I had bought from a friend for $200 (I paid him $100, owed him $100). Nor did I.

At the time, I was teaching at Wayne Aspinall, a public middle school in St. Thomas. Our librarian, a man from Eastern Europe (Slovakia?) had become a friend; when his brother immigrated, I volunteered to help his brother learn English. Ours was an interesting friendship with a very limited vocabulary.

After school one day, about a week after my car was stolen, I was walking home when he spotted me. Waving frantically, he got my attention. As I approached him, he tried to say a word that didn’t sound like any I’d taught him. Frustrated because he was so unclear, he pointed toward the end of the island where the movie theater was.

“My car?” I guessed. “You. Saw. My. CAR?” I said slowly and carefully.

He nodded; we waved at a policeman driving a roomy police car. When he approached, I explained what had happened.

“Get in!” he insisted. “We’ll find it.”

And we did. The car’s engine had been hotwired; it was parked in plain view. To my surprise, it looked even worse than when I’d been driving it. That seemed impossible, but there it was, a real heap.

Just as I started to ask the officer about apprehending the thief, he stopped me.

“No,” he said, “You will be given a ticket for improper parking! Otherwise, it will be towed away.”

Fortunately, I knew that justice in St. Thomas worked that way. Laws that applied to transients like me weren’t the same as those that governed native Islanders. I knew not to argue, knew that, if I wanted a ride back to the other end of the island, I’d better be nice to the policeman.

No charges were filed; I never saw the car again. But there was some good news. When I told my story to my friend who’d sold me the car, he was generous.

“Don’t worry about the hundred bucks,” he said, “you’ve been through enough.”

After reading the Yahoo! story, I had to believe the Jetta’s owner might have said the very same thing.

                                                B.Koplen 8/21/13

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Could she be the...

Nutty professor?     This woman is a lecturer in Arabic at Emory University, my alma mater:

 Ms. Entropy
Angry academic. Lover of Libya, Morocco, Algeria & Egypt. Grammar fascist / dirty commie. I'm sarcastic & I probably need a nap. Looking for fires to run into.
الله عالم

If I told you I am happy about that, I’d be lying the same way I would have been lying if I’d said the same about the Arabic instructor my older daughter had at UVa. That instructor, an Arab male, ignored her requests to accommodate her hearing deficit. Not only was he unresponsive, but also he was unapologetic. He, too, may have been an “Angry academic,” if for many different reasons.

Ms. Entropy, according to her site, is Looking for fires to run into . My hope is that she will view this an expression of my willingness to be that fire.

Please let me explain. Her real name is NOT Ms. Entropy. Indeed, I’d never heard of that moniker before I read Rod Nordland’s piece on 8/19/13 in the very left-leaning N. Y. Times. Midway through Saudi Arabia Promises to Aid Egypt’s Regime, Nordland comments:

“The Saudi monarchy is absolutely afraid of an Islamist-based democracy movement,” said Amanda E. Rogers, a lecturer in Arabic at Emory University in Atlanta and contributor to Muftah, a blog about the Middle East and North Africa. [my emphasis]
What could have led Nordland to rely on Rogers as an expert to be cited in the once vaunted Times? Obviously, it had to do with a blog, Muftah. I went there and found this article by Ms. Rogers:   Cached

That article feigns an even-handed approach that attempts to disguise her bias. (You saw from her intro to Ms. Entropy that the U.S.A. and Israel are not listed among places she loves.) Like most pro-Palestinian supporters (even very bright Jewish Americans who seem to bend over backwards to be that way), Rogers’ argument clots periodically when she must overlook historical facts to make it appear her flag raising is legitimate.

Ms. Rogers, you really can’t do that other than with someone like Nordland who seems to have been easy to influence. Perhaps the picture that opens Ms. Rogers’ Muftah article is partly to blame. Its caption reads:

Palestinians stand near the rubble following an Israeli air strike on Sunday (Photo credit: Eyad Baba)

Standing against a wall are women in Islamic garb. In front of them, one step from “the rubble” are young children, also standing. Seated to the left are two elderly men. Altogether, there are about twenty-five witnesses to what appears to have been a direct hit on…on something. Rogers doesn’t say what.

Of course, it could have been a missile launch site for a missile fired indiscriminately at Israeli citizens. Or it could have been a factory for making those missiles. Whatever the case, none of the Palestinians in the picture were wearing bandages; none were bloodied.

What does that suggest? Rogers dodges the obvious answer by commenting, “I will not engage in the Möbius strip of who-started-what-when, particularly concerning the current conflict.

That means there will be nothing in Roger’s opinion piece about causal factors such as San Remo or UN Resolution 242 or Yasser Arafat’s rejection of peace, or the Hamas charter that put that rejection in black and white for all to see.

All but Rogers and Nordland. They choose to overlook Jordan’s role, prior to the ’67 war, that prevented Jews from having free access to one of their most holy sites, the Western Wall.

Although Rogers quips, parenthetically, about Pat Robertson, “(he is presumably unaware of the many Christian Palestinians who live in the Occupied Territories)”, I must wonder whether she’s visited Bethlehem lately. Its shrinking Christian population is being rooted out by the PA Arab/Muslims. [please see: Christians leave Bethlehem amid increasing pressure from ...   Cached
Practically the only place in the region where the Christian population is growing is in Israel. In Bethlehem, Christians now feel besieged. ... less than 8 percent ...]

Something is very wrong when a Times’ journalist has to rely on opinion rather than fact.

Even more troubling, Ms. Rogers, is your belief, so clearly stated, “…I support a one-state solution for Palestine-Israel–one in which citizenship rights are granted without regard to ethnicity or religion. I believe this is the governmental system commonly known by the term “democracy,” Your remark treats logic as if it were a magic wand that only works when you’re holding it.

How can you expect the Palestinians to join with Jews when they can’t even say that they want to change Israel because it is a “Jewish nation.” ? They never have, never will.

How can you foresee Gaza’s Palestinians accepting a blended state when Gazans won’t amend their charter as a sign that they disavow their commitment to exterminate Israel and its Jews?

Finally, Ms. Rogers, how can you convince yourself that a one-state solution means anything at all to Palestinians, even the ‘moderate’ PA, when they parade the recently released murderers as heroes?

Will you write that the Israelis are generous when the second batch is released and they, too, are treated to a hero’s welcome?

Please run from my fire, Ms. Rogers. It’s an everlasting light!

                                                            B.Koplen  8/20/13

p.s. Please see: The Triumph of Illusion
by Shoshana Bryen
American Thinker
August 20, 2013

The Palestine Liberation Organization was created in 1964. Like most revolutionary movements, it wrote a Charter to define its aims and fundamental policies, including:
Article 17: The partitioning of Palestine, which took place in 1947, and the establishment of Israel are illegal and null and void, regardless of the loss of time...
Article 18: The Balfour Declaration, the Palestine Mandate System, and all that has been based on them are considered null and void. The claims of historic and spiritual ties between Jews and Palestine are not in agreement with the facts of history or with the true basis of sound statehood. Judaism... is not a nationality (and) the Jews are not one people with an independent personality...
Article 19: Zionism is a colonialist movement in its inception, aggressive and expansionist in its goal, racist in its configurations, and fascist in its means and aims...
Article 24: This Organization does not exercise any territorial sovereignty over the West Bank in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, (or) on the Gaza Strip…