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

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