On the first day of each semester, I ask my students to go around the room and tell me their names and some other piece of information of my choosing. This serves 2 purposes: 1) If any of them have batshit names that in no way reflect the actual spelling on my attendance sheet, this is a great way to find that out (I’m looking at you Azalea, pronounced Ah-zhu-lay). 2) With just a few words, I gain some insight into the empty, bored faces staring back at me as if I’m less interesting than a hangnail. I get it. I was that bored student once, I’m sure. I don’t expect them to look at me as if I’m Miley Cyrus or a much too convincing male to female transgender who makes them question everything they thought they knew about their sexuality.
(Because seriously, these gorgeous young ladies were once dudes).
Or a unicorn. Or a Miley Cyrus drag queen impersonator, which is obviously a thing.
(because you’re not REALLY famous until a drag queen impersonates you, right?)
Anyway, I know that I have to work to get them to talk to me, and I accept that. If I’m not feeling creative, I might just ask for their major or what they like to do in their spare time, which will still typically yield some. . . illuminating. . . responses:
1. Well, I’m a Juggalo, so I like dressing up like an asshat and drinking copious amounts of Faygo while listening to ludicrous music. No, not Ludacris, the rapper. I’m using the word ludicrous as an adjective here.
Well, I enjoy long walks on the beach, reading Nicholas Sparks novels and sacrificing talk show hosts to the great god Xenu.
2. Well, AS A MOTHER, I have no identity outside of my children, so let me tell you a little bit about little Makayla’s pinworms and how Brody is in the gifted program!
(Disclaimer: Most nontraditional students are not like this. In fact, my nontraditional students are typically my favorites because, for the most part, they are respectful, do their work and actually want to be in class. However, there’s one like this in every bunch. You know the type. . .)
3. I like getting really pissed off about everything, so let me first demonstrate that by going into a five minute tirade about how the government doesn’t force my asshole-good-for-nothing-baby-daddy to pay enough child support because they’re all just a bunch of selfish penises who need to be castrated. What’s that? Oh, yea, my major – I’m a counseling/psych major.
You know the type. It looks like this:
4. I’m president of our campus anarchy club.
To which I respond,
This semester, since I’m teaching a composition class centered upon making arguments about policy issues, I decided to open the class by asking each student to tell me about some policy, human rights violation, or social ill that they would change if they could. Several of them mentioned raising minimum wage. A few more mentioned limits on welfare benefits. Others explained that they would institute rehab instead of jail time for nonviolent drug violations. Some wanted more protection for the homeless population.
However, here are my three favorites.
One came from a kid named Clyde Tater (That’s not his real name, which I can’t disclose – however, it is pretty close to the spirit of his real name). He looks and sounds exactly as I would expect someone named Clyde Tater to look and sound. (P.S. A Google image search for ‘Clyde Tater’ yielded this. . .
this. . .
and, inexplicably, this. . .
NOTE: This is not what Clyde Tater looks like, I can assure you. His severed pig’s head was MUCH larger.)
He’s slumped down in his desk wearing a Carhart jacket, camouflage ball cap and work boots. When he realizes it’s his turn to speak, the sound of throat clearing erupts from somewhere inside his untamed beard and he says in a mellifluous country drawl (and I’m crying inside with joy because he sounds like home, and I already love him), “I’d change the lowering of speed limits. They lowered it to 60 out where I live and I usually go about 90. I can’t afford no more points on my license.”
I can so vividly picture his vehicle:
It runs on freedom.
Or, who knows, maybe I’m just stereotyping this kid. People surprise me all the time. Maybe Clyde really drives something like this.
It’s possible. Unlikely, but possible
Anyway, people driving too slow and the government making them do it – that is the nefarious social ill that Clyde would like to solve. He truly is a visionary.
Another guy with a pretty standard name like James Neal or Josh Barnes or Jared Brown or something equally nondescript chimes in next. He has close-cropped brown hair, some groomed facial hair and he is wearing the most generic jeans and t-shirt combo. Seriously, his clothes could belong to anybody, anybody at all, and this is why I sometimes have a harder time remembering my male students’ names. Unlike in the animal world where men preen their colorful plumage to attract dun-colored females,
(Hey, gurl! You like what you see? Bitches love feathers.)
in the human world girls have weaves and hair dye and day-glo dresses and skirts and sequins and any possible arrangement of clothing colors and patterns imaginable. Men mostly wear jeans and t-shirts.
Not all men, mind you (again, see Clyde Tater above) but many of them. This invariably makes it more difficult to remember their names. None of them particularly stands out to me in quite the same way as the girl with blue hair or the one whose see-through lace top is so skin-tight that I can’t help but remember in ironic horror that her name is Chastity.
Why can’t the guys in my classes wear something more like this?
or whatever is going on here. . .
I would definitely remember the names of these gents.
Anyway Jake Clark or John Smith or whatever this kid’s name is, chimes in, “What is up with men’s shoe sizing?” (and for a moment I’m expecting a stand-up routine, and I get a little excited, but alas). “I mean, I ordered a pair of size 13 rain boots off the internet the other day, and when I got them they were tiny! I mean, what’s up with that? I was pissed! I think men’s shoe sizes need to be standardized so I know what I’m getting when I order online!” I don’t know if I’m more amused or saddened by the fact that this kid doesn’t realize he ordered children’s shoes – that he doesn’t realize that children’s shoes also come in size 13 and this is most likely what he ordered without reading the item description thoroughly enough to realize it. I imagine these are the boots he received:
No, not human trafficking or sweatshop labor or climate change policies – this kid wants to standardize all shoe sizing for men, making the world a better place one pair of galoshes at a time, not by placing them on the feet of a person in need, but by making sure they are large enough to fit him.
Finally, remember the girl I mentioned above going into a five minute tirade about her baby daddy and child support? Yes, she was real, and that was the issue she’d like to change about society – that the government should make her baby daddy pay her more child support. Her name is something like Amber or Krystal and she has thick black highlights in her platinum blonde hair.
If a pack of cigarettes could speak, it would sound exactly like this girl.
She’s the type of woman who enters the room with a fanfare – harried and out of breath, she feels the need to explain what held her up on her way to class (Lost my keys, but I found them at the last minute right in my purse where I left them! My life is SO cu-razy!)
From her long and breathless spiel, I can already tell that she’s going to irritate me on multiple occasions this semester. As I work through explaining my class policies, she interrupts several times without raising her hand to ask pointless questions. Now, I’m not necessarily a hand-raising Nazi. This is college, after all, and these are adults. But she is talking CONSTANTLY, holding up the class, asking questions like – “Now this textbook is listed as a ‘recommended text’ not a ‘required text’ so that means it’s recommended, not required, right?”
When I get to the section of my syllabus about classroom respect, I make sure to make special eye contact with her as I mention that students should raise their hands with comments or questions when anybody else is speaking – myself and other students included.
I can already see her classmates inching away from her on peer revision day, praying to the god Xenu that I don’t stick them in a group with her.
Overall, though, it seems like it will be a pretty fun class, and I’m happy to wrap up my classes at the four-year school where I teach.
Finals week is over for them and I’m ready to bid that class a solid adieu! Why? Here’s a sampling of the types of students in that class:
One girl submitted her rough draft as her final draft without changing any of the content and with my original, meticulous Microsoft Word comments still in the margins. One boy submitted an essay from a previous English class that he took and failed last semester. Did I mention that he already did this once this semester and that I caught him, gave him a 0 on that essay and warned him not to do it again? Because that happened.
Hurray for Generation Y and credentialism!