Monday, April 06, 2009

"I Can Help You Birth Your Baby, But Please Don't Ask Me to File Your Taxes"


From the teaching life:

I have had a student sit in my office and sob about how she was stuck living with her no-account boyfriend who used their money for anything but rent, who hated the fact that she’d chosen to go to college, who sabotaged her every effort to change her life. However, she sniffed as she wiped mascara off her cheeks, she had no money to move out and was feeling too proud to call her parents and ask for help. During all this, I handed over Kleenex after Kleenex, patted her on the shoulders, and told her, from my perspective as a parent, that it would be an honor for my children to come to me with their pain and allow me to be of help in escaping negative life situations. That afternoon, she left my office, wrote her parents a letter, and they immediately floated her a loan for her own apartment. They also helped her pay for her textbooks and got her a new fuel pump in her car. Less than a day later, she emailed me and thanked me for acting as a “mother figure” when she needed on. Since I’m pretty sure I’m only 24, that thank you was more sobering than uplifting, but I took her point. Last week, she emailed me from Mexico, where she's on vacation. She's very sorry she forgot to take the quiz.

I have had a student turn in a three-page essay that was one continuous sentence, without a whit of punctuation in it until the bottom of page three, where a lone period reared up. When I returned the paper to the student with the comment of, “I can’t grade this until you show me some sentence boundaries and add in the necessary punctuation,” he responded with a bleary, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

I have had a student come into my office for a required one-on-one conference and tell me, dry-eyed, about how he and his wife had become addicted to meth the year before, after the whole family was involved in a car crash, in which their 3-year-old son was killed. On the day of our meeting, this student had been clean for six months and was trying to turn his life around, despite his wife’s continued addiction. It was all I could do not to gather him unto my bosom and rock him like a baby. Because he was 26, and because I hardly knew him, that would have been infinitely creepy, though, so I simply told him, repeatedly, “I don’t have words for how much I respect you.”

I have had a student stand in my office for 45 minutes, monologuing like an evil genius, about how he and his girlfriend and their baby were going to get off welfare so they could afford a better car. When he finally wrapped up and left, one of my colleagues (it was a shared office space) called out across the room, “You are a saint. I was ready to kill him after 10 minutes.”

I have had a student write a series of journals throughout the semester that capitalized upon the liberties of “freewriting” to the point that every entry contained the words “I wake up every day with morning wood” or “Being hung like a donkey is hard work…” No, son: grading your writing was hard work.

I have had a student who, as part of her efforts to leave a significant position in organized gang life, was forced to submit to ritualized torture sessions periodically. In the face of this, she never missed a class but rather limped in after her weekends "away" and handed me her homework, no excuses.

I have had a student who worked as a stripper to pay her tuition. She managed to get herself off crack and stay off it, even when male patrons insulted her to the core. When she was raped by a former boyfriend, however, her life began a slow descent into panic, and she fought retain a kernel of her self through writing.

I have had a student who, with two tours of Iraq under her belt, just wanted to be a firefighter. As someone who lived in an apartment, she begged to come over and do yard work for me, so she could wear a 50-pound pack as she shoveled and, thusly, get into shape for the CPAT, a physical fitness test required by firefighting departments. After priming herself all summer, she came up short of the $250 required to take the test as part of the interview, so she now works part-time making soup at a restaurant in town and part-time straightening merchandise at Target.

I have had Mindy.

I have had a student who stayed after class to tell me she knew I was treating her differently because I was white, and she was black.

I have had a student stay after class to thank me for never making him feel like the only black person in a room full of whites.

I have had a student from China who, shaky in her English skills, had someone write out her final exam essay for her ahead of time; she then memorized that draft and typed it up, straight out of her head, during the final exam period.

I have had a student (raised as part of the Christian Coalition in Colorado Springs) tell me I could save myself by reading John 3:16 (at which point I quoted it to him), that AIDS was only inflicted upon those who deserve it, and that he had these feelings inside of him that made him feel unclean.

I have had a student come to my office and ask me if I could give her a passing grade, despite her lack of attendance or work submitted, because she was bipolar.

I have had a bipolar student—someone who never missed an assignment or class—meet me at my office door at 7:55 a.m., quivering, and announce, “I’m tweaking right now. I’m not okay. I think I’m going to hurt myself. Is there anyone who can help me?” Although 24 other students awaited me in the classroom, I assured her we had more than enough time to get her to a counselor.

I have had 90 papers submitted on the same day by students who then inquire, “Will we get them back next time?”

I have had a student who, every time I walked past his desk, would slip me a note. Usually they read something like, “I want to become a lounge performer in Las Vegas.”

I have had a beloved student die.

I have had her daughter, also a student, call me and bawl and bawl, telling me, “My mom loved you so much. I need you to come stand by me at the memorial.”

I have had hundreds of students shuffle into the classroom wearing empty Kleenex boxes on their feet as shoes—for extra credit. Long story.

I have had a colleague snarl at me in a departmental meeting, “I’ve been teaching for twenty years, and if the administration thinks I’m going to hand over my teaching materials to a young pup like you, they’ve got another thing coming.”

I have had a dean give me an evaluation so passive-aggressive that I had to go back to my office after it and cry for half an hour.
-------------------

Clearly, I have a job that is often emotional and taxing and vexing.

How can it be, then, that the most challenging thing I've ever encountered in my career


has been filling out an expense report?

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

You call that passive aggressive?

iJim

monica said...

You are a person person, not a number person. I'd say.
Circles or ridges??

Jazz said...

Expense reports. Bleh.

Balou said...

Wow. I'm sure that's just the tip of the iceberg. Saint Jocelyn...is it available? Give me your homework. I'll do it for you as long as you tell me the Kleenex box shoe story.

Becky Cazares said...

And I'll do your taxes! Just as long as you keep feeding us the reality of lives we glimpse only briefly which occupy a good part of your day... and make us sometimes dream of being community college professors in another life.

Midlife Jobhunter said...

Funny.
Oh, I think I would like your job. Just decided after attending a secondary ed job fair that I don't want to go back to high school.

I'm sorry having you go through a student dying. Always too much heart weight.

Dory said...

I loved hearing your work stories. LOVED.

Dory

Susan said...

All I can think of is that I will have a college student in a year...I can only wonder what she would be staying after class to say...

sid said...

Man your job sounds stressful. I boiled when I read that one of your students actually believes that people deserve to be inflicted with AIDS. You have no idea how angry that type of sentiment makes me.

Kylie w Warszawie said...

Sweet. I now know that it wouldn't be better if I was teaching ANY other age group. Teenagers are just as annoying as adults and preschoolers.

But I have had a student steal the Eucharist and allegedly say a "black mass" with it - most likely putting some kind of curse on me and the other person who turned her in.

You're awesome!

Bethany said...

"I have had a student who, every time I walked past his desk, would slip me a note. Usually they read something like, “I want to become a lounge performer in Las Vegas.”"

I want to hear more about this guy. He sounds like a dreamer.

Good luck with that expense report!

kmkat said...

I'll do your taxes in a heartbeat, but keep me away from a classroom full of students...

lime said...

it is because you are a credit to your profession due to the fact that you know the impact of your work upon human beings, that you take it seriously, that you see what is really important. you see the big picture and you are being asked to focus on something that really has no bearing on anything you do or the students you serve. that sheet would give me hives too.

Jill said...

I wanna hear the Kleenex box story!

P.S. I wish the world were filled with teachers like you. :)

Scott Garson said...

found this thru Phil's blog

hi Joce!

Chantal said...

I loved this post!

actonbell said...

What a riveting post! You do have one challenging and interesting life.

And there is truly something wrong with our tax system that so many smart, honest people dread the paperwork, and also that so many people wind up PAYING to file their taxes. We really shouldn't take this any more.

Princess Pointful said...

I've missed your words, Jocelyn. I'm glad you can remember the beautiful bits in the difficult. It is inspiring for us beginners who just remember the difficult by itself.

Pam said...

Yuk. Can't believe that people base their work around designing those forms...they're just as bad as those that enjoy enforcing them them with the word "deadline".Not really cheery is it!Really interesting post Jocelyn!By the way, my daughter was one of those students who had problems with getting an assignment in on time because of pressing personal issues. I told her she would have to let the lecturer know exactly what was going on, thinking to myself"that poor woman".Asking later how she got on, she told me "she was really good, passing the box of tissues etc". I'm guessing that may have something to do with the Kleenex box shoes?

cathy said...

Well hurry up and get it sorted. We need the kleenex box as shoes story, and we need it NOW!

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Just reading this report from down in the trenches affected me like a tidal wave divesting a roller coaster of its moorings. Your spirit of adventure never fails to amaze.

I have personally had zero experience of the difficulties in being hung like a donkey, but I have met plenty of asses, as, apparently, have you.

Punctuation seems to be tricky. My husband's brother suffers from commarrhea, a terrible affliction in which commas are inserted between every two words whether they are needed or not. It, gets, old,,,.

phd in yogurtry said...

So the first girl, the one who wrote her parents a letter and they loaned her money for her own apartment... was she in Mexico with her lame-o boyfriend?

I loved reading these vignettes, the tip of the iceberg no doubt. I was especially moved by the young woman who wanted you to stand by her at her mother's memorial.

Pearl said...

The expense report is difficult because what you need is an assistant.

I can stop by next week sometime. I require margaritas and guacamole -- and not the pre-made stuff, either, but squished with love (and a fork) by you personally.

You know what's really weird? I had you saved in my favorites -- but to a specific post!!! I kept going back to it, and there it was, the damn blog on something under your minivan car seat, and I thought, how strange! she's such a good writer -- why doesn't she update this damn thing?!!!

Ahem.

OK! So! I've been missing out apparently.

Fully owning my idiocy,

Pearl

NeedleDancer said...

Your student list reminds me of an enlarged version of mine.
Students are amazing creatures. I'm going to resist the urge to share some of my stories... because you've got me trumped a couple of times...

Glamourpuss said...

I need to start pulling that bipolar card.

And yeah, my head of department was very like your dean, suggesting I go on a course to learn how to deal with people. I was recently heartened by the news that she was resigning her lucrative position as HoD because her department had written and signed a letter of no confidence. The universe is just.

Puss