Idling in rush hour traffic, on my way home after finishing my last class of the day, I have lots of time to wonder who exactly comes up with all those brilliant ideas that are ruthlessly yet passively absorbed into our lives without discussion, fanfare, or debate, and simply become accepted as, "That's just the way things are done." Oh, you know what I mean. Who constructed the miniature containers of half & half such that when you finally pull back the tab that’s been welded closed, you will certainly spew milk everywhere but into your coffee cup? Or even better, who came up with those tasty tofu burgers? Ooooh, yummy! And let’s not forget the doughnut-sized spare tire conveniently lodged in the trunk of your car in the event of that occasional flat. How far do are you expected to roll on that thing? But the cleverest idea of them all is the " 'You’ve got to be kidding me' 8 o’clock class."
What diabolical mind conceived this outlandish ploy to fill up the course schedule and offer a last-ditch option to those students who were too late to enroll in the popular classes that are now closed but who needed English composition? No one really knows or admits ownership. On the other hand, the poor simpleton who teaches those 8 o’clock classes is well known. We all know her -- Professor Honesteria Dimwitty. She’s the teacher who religiously attends every faculty meeting (even takes notes), turns in final grades well before the due date, volunteers for every committee, gives up part of her summer vacation to attend those heinous professional development workshops, and actually holds office hours, Monday through Friday.
Now, to be fair, Dimwitty was not a fan of the early-riser sessions to begin with. If forced to confess, she would probably say that she had been bamboozled! In what way, you ask? Simple. The lure of getting her teaching load over by noon, thereby leaving the remaining hours for constructive academic doings, was too hard to resist.
According to secret journal accounts, on that first day, Dimwitty described leaping out of bed at 6 a.m., stopping by Starbucks for the wake-up cup of coffee, driving to work before the real rush hour, taking a few minutes to review her lesson plans, scanning the roster of students, practicing pronouncing a few names, and finally inhaling the scents and sounds of students on their way to that first class. What a rush!
She revealed that she entered the classroom, placed her notes on the lectern, wrote her name on the board, then turned expectantly to get that first glimpse of the faces of her eager students only to find a smattering of bodies randomly draped over desks and slumped in chairs -- the count as of 8:10 a.m. is 6 out 22 officially enrolled. There, in the front row, sat that one student, pen perched over pad and ready to take notes. Like Dimwitty, she actually thought there would be a class that day.
Dimwitty paused to reflect and decided that all was not lost. After all, it was just the first day of class. Students would still be finding their way. The next class had to be better. Unfortunately, the next class and the remaining sessions were just as poorly attended and just as disappointing. Those students who attended one day were not likely to be the same students who attended the next class day.
By the fourth class session, the few faithful attendees would have given up all pretense of following the lesson and resorted to arranging their faces into frozen masks of unnatural attention while actually catching up on lost sleep. Some of the very bold would ask for a review of any missed lessons. At the end of each class period, some would even offer Dimwitty an awkward expression of sympathy and support. Looking anywhere but at their instructor, they would pose, "Why did they sign up for this class if they didn’t plan to come?" "You are really patient!" "I'm taking your class next term." "Will you be teaching an 8 o’clock again?" "Do you have an extra syllabus?"
Dimwitty finally realized that the 8 o’clock class offered formidable challenges to an instructor. Regardless of how creative the lesson plans or how well-aimed an eraser at the head of the nodding student, teaching a body of students at that hour was probably the worst experience she had ever had, barring having her teeth cleaned by a dental hygienist wearing 3-inch press-on nails.
You had to have been there. I was.
Juanita M. Eagleson is visiting assistant professor of liberal studies at the Community College of the District of Columbia.