Instructor: Melanie Moody
Course: English 102, section 17 (Introduction to Literature), 12/1/08, T 2:30 - 3:45.
Observer: Prof. James Aaronson, English Department, U of All People
The first thing one notices about Melanie Moody’s class is that she has no students. Melanie refuses to be rattled by this lack, glancing over the text and pretending to take attendance. After that, she files her nails and avoids making eye contact with me. By 2:45, two students show up. Melanie starts the lesson, which is to go over the assigned reading for that day, Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants.” Parenthetical: I have never encountered an introductory literature class that doesn’t use this text. What Melanie has to say about the story is useful enough, though it sounds suspiciously as if she’s just reading from the Norton preface, and in fact a later check confirms this.
After a few minutes’ worth, she stops to ask one of the students what he thinks. It turns out that he hasn’t done the reading. Neither has the other student. Both of them -- I don’t know why I include this detail -- are wearing backwards plaid baseball caps.
“All right,” Melanie enunciates slowly, as if talking to a student in our special English 001 class, “then let’s read it together, right now.”
Neither student has remembered to bring the textbook to class.
At this, Melanie leaves her perch on the desk and comes over to where the students are slouching in their desk-chairs. She thrusts her copy of the book at them and commands them to read.
What follows is one of the worst renditions of prose I’ve ever heard, and I’ve sat through plenty in my time. I’ve never heard elephant pronounced with seven syllables, and how can one stumble over a word like bamboo? But Melanie has them take turns, surreptitiously giving the lengthier passages to the marginally better reader.
Though the story is only a few pages, Melanie gives up after ten minutes, at the point in the conversation where the girl says to the American, “Would you please please please please please please stop talking?” How well I remember that line.
Melanie takes back her book and returns to her desk. She starts asking questions about the relationship between the man and the woman in the story.
She gets no response.
One of the students leaves the room, ostensibly to go to the bathroom. He doesn’t return.
Melanie starts to ask herself leading questions about the story, parading about the tangle of desk-chairs and making up responses in what she probably imagines is a Hemingwayesque voice. A good teacher is an active presence in the classroom. Melanie’s imitation of swigging a glass of beer is a sight to behold.
The remaining student sits up and looks at her. She quickly asks him a question about the story, about what the matter with the woman is, and he shrugs.
She shrugs back, smiles sympathetically, and dismisses the class.
Summary evaluation: Despite a few missteps, Melanie Moody maintains a professional demeanor in the classroom and is to be encouraged. Given the level of our students and the rates we pay adjuncts, we’re not likely to get a replacement.
David Galef is happily employed as an English professor at Montclair State University, not, thankfully, at U of All People.
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