Nontraditional students are polarizing. Some professors love them. After all, nontraditional students are older; thus, they are typically more mature and responsible. They’ve got the crows feet to prove they’ve spent countless hours frowning at the mailbox, a true mark of adulthood. They’ve got kids to feed; thus, they pay attention in class and do their work because they don’t want to fail and end up moving their spawn into a van down by the river. They managed to survive their twenties and now look at their binge-drinking, beat-boxing, clown-ass classmates with derision as they dream of warm milk and NCIS. They live by the motto,
and they are. And so am I.
On the other hand, some professors hate them. After all, many nontraditional students balk at the mention of using computers. Some seem downright resistant to stepping outside of their comfort zones to learn new technologies and use this fear as an excuse to not even try: “I’m just not good with computers!” they cry as they try to force a handwritten essay into my hands. Also, they’ve got kids to feed; thus, almost every time they speak in class, they do so ‘As a parent,’ a guaranteed way to elicit eye rolls and mutinous glares from their classmates.
I usually fall into the former camp. I like nontraditional students. I, too, am ‘too old for this shit.’ Also, I’d rather deal with the problem of trying to get a baby boomer to use a word processor than the problem of trying to get an 18-year-old to stop putting smiley faces in his/her paper and to stop using the letter ‘u’ in place of the word ‘you.’
I’d also rather hear a middle-aged soccer mom drone on about Makayla’s participation trophy than hear some scraggly, stoned kid with a soul patch try to claim, for the billionth time, that pot cures cancer.
However, I had one nontraditional student who still provokes damp armpit feelings of anxiety and loathing in me when I think about her. I think she must have been in her forties, and she also walked with a cane. That was all cool, of course.
What wasn’t cool was the way she would follow me.
I can’t prove it, but I think she must have lingered outside of our classroom, waiting for me to leave, because sometimes I’d be quietly minding my own business in a bathroom stall, spending some precious between-class moments trying to pee and regain some shred of sanity, and I’d hear it. Shuffle, stump. Suffle, stump. Shuffle, stump. She’d come stumping into the bathroom. I’d hear her heavy breathing and the sound of her rubber-tipped cane striking the tile. She’d spot my feet under the stall door and, before I could think to hide or try to escape, she would start talking to me THROUGH THE STALL DOOR, standing inches away from me, asking me question after question, as I hovered awkwardly over a toilet seat with my skirt hiked up. You might think, “Maybe she just had a similar route to her next class and also needed to use the bathroom on the way.”
You would be wrong. I know this because once I came out of the stall after trying to deflect her conversation through the door only to find that we were the only two in the bathroom and all the other stalls were empty. She did not use the bathroom. She hunted me as if she were an entire pack of Jurassic Park velociraptors.
Then she would devour my few precious moments of alone time. Our conversations would go approximately like this.
Lady: Oh, Hi professor! That you in there?
Me: (In my mind)
Me: (Out loud) Uuuuh. Yea.
Lady: Oh, ok, I thought those were your shoes. I’m really concerned about this research essay. We never wrote any essays like this in my last English class, and I’m just not good with computers.
Me: (Silence, as I stand like some kind of panicked, slowly-leaking ostrich). . . ok.
Lady: You said in class we’re supposed to find eight sources, right.
Me: . . . .yep.
Lady: Does it say that on the essay assignment sheet too?
Me: . . . Uh, yep.
Lady: Oh, ok. Because that’s a lot of research. What if I can’t find eight sources.
Me: . . . Well as I said in class. . .
And so it would continue. She would ask me things I already answered in class, and I would try to disengage while I urinated. Usually I would drop strong hints that it would be more appropriate to discuss this via e-mail or during office hours, but she either didn’t get it or didn’t care, so we would share these daily converurinations with each other.
Thank the sweet baby Jesus in the manger she didn’t actually try to follow me into my next class.
In addition to stalking me, she also brought (AND CONSUMED) an entire 2-liter of cola to class every day. This was disgusting enough on its own. I mean, there are approximately 1.25 cups of sugar in a 2 liter bottle of cola. Just imagine shotgunning an entire cup of sugar in less than an hour and then going back for a little more. That’s basically what she was doing. Who does that?
Then, she would spend the remainder of class loudly clearing mucus from her throat, and I would spend the rest of class trying not to stop teaching and yell,
I can still hear her in my nightmares – breathing and stumping and asking and clearing. She is mingled in my memory with the pressing need to urinate and the smell of public restrooms. Ugh.
Ah well. This week I found out two of the classes I was planning to teach next semester have been canceled due to low enrollment. Such is the life of an adjunct.