(RECAP: I have finally made it to my classroom. I enter and immediately have an angry flashback about the first time I entered those rooms, found them crammed to the gills with seats, and myself completely immobilized by all the seats up against the blackboard, Suddenly I think, EARTHQUAKE.)
I have this vision of an earthquake. I see the students coming at me, a frantic horde, climbing over their seats (since there is no room to walk between them) and the doorway of that tiny, jam-packed room completely blocked with a confluence of student bodies all atop each other arms and legs akimbo as that wretched building comes down around our ears. Since my vision has some basis in reality, so as soon as that class is over, I go to the office and say that the brand new room I just held class in is an earthquake hazard. Oh, Nick, they go. Since we writing teachers are not real Professors, but Lecturers, some members of the staff adopt towards us a condescending attitude. Well, you go over, I say, You look at that room and tell me it is not an earthquake hazard.
When I return to that room a day later, I find that 10 seats have been removed. I learn that the campus fire marshal has visited these rooms and declared them a fire hazard. Where the fire marshal was when they put all those seats in there I don’t know. I feel vindicated. The room is still too small with no data projector and no cross ventilation. But I feel vindicated. Indeed, when I look back, I rank my part in the removal of those chairs one of the high points of my career as a writing instructor.
This is pathetic, admittedly. But the teaching of writing is a very frustrating business because I never know if I have, after ten weeks with a class, accomplished anything. Sure, maybe their writing has improved somewhat. I say maybe because sometimes it’s really hard to tell. How the hell in any case is one to find a standard by which to judge what improvement might or might not occur over a mere ten week period.
And unlike a tenured Professor, say, of literature, I see a group of students once and then they disappear. They do not take a class from me two or three times as they might from their favorite professor. So I don’t have students coming back to me, bringing me candy, or offering me sexual favors because I was such an earthshakingly wonderful professor and profound guy. In ten weeks, it’s just not possible to build up that narcissistically informed rapport. And besides I am teaching writing, not Shakespeare, or James Joyce, or one of those authors that allows me to play the explication guru and act as if I know what I am talking about so that students who don’t have the faintest idea what these authors might be saying come away thinking they have been informed.
I don’t get to talk about tragedy or comedy and love or the nuances of all three. I don’t get to emote or to display the depths of my compassion or my complex understanding of the nature of human experience or indoctrinate them into the most hip and cutting edge current theoretical fad. It’s hard to emote over the use of the comma. I have tried and failed. Rather than display the depth of my understanding of human nature, I come off sounding like a raving pedant.
But with those seats and their removal I could see and feel that I had played a role in causing something to happen.