The Passive-aggressive Imp

In the 1980s, I was among about a zillion public school teachers introduced to the promise of CAI–Computer Assisted Instruction.

When computers replaced the classroom teacher, as they eventually would, students would learn gladly, each at his own pace. Discipline problems would  disappear, because there would be no dissonance in the new student-teacher relationship. Computers were neutral. There would be no personality conflicts, because computers had no personalities. They neither took offense nor gave it. There would be no frustration, no irritation, no anger, no unhappy track record, no grudges, no bias, no impatient sighs, no rolling of eyes, no gnashing of teeth, nothing from either student or computer to upset our little CRT-filled Edens.

In other words, as soon as the teacher withdrew to the sidelines and left teaching to the expert, all would be well.

Uh-huh.

Fast-forward to 2014.

For the past hour I’ve been trying to register for a week-long writing class–The Damned Rough Draft, to be specific. I belong to the sponsoring organization. To receive the member discount, I must enter my user name and password.

I don’t know my user name and password. I didn’t know I had a user name and password. There is a hazy slip of memory that might touch on receiving something like that, perhaps written on the back of the new card. But during a recent purse purge, a handful of cards were relegated to a stack somewhere that isn’t a memory at all.

So I emailed a friend who was engaged in the same pursuit. She had figured out her username and suggested I follow her pattern, fill in my possible username, and click Forgot Email.

I did. I entered my email address and requested the password be sent to my account. Clicked Okay. Nothing. Started humming in hopes of keeping my blood pressure down. Clicked Okay again. Clicked many, many more times. If I’d found a student clicking away like that, our personalities would have conflicted immediately.

I clicked some more.

Nada.

So here I sit, frustrated, irritated, staring at the one thing standing between me and my precious Damned Rough Draft, this laptop, the portal through which the wonky registration page enters my sight. And I think, Computer Assisted Instruction, yeah, right.

Because I don’t care how neutral this machine is supposed to be, I’m as irritated as all get-out with the damned passive-aggressive little imp. And although I’m tempted to stay here and click click click, just to let it know I won’t be beaten, I shall give in and go to bed.

Because the tune I’ve been humming through this ordeal is “If I Had a Hammer.” And if I don’t get out of here, I shall be overcome by temptation and write a whole new verse to that song.

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True Poet

Despite all the time I’ve wasted scrolling through Facebook, I’ve received more from the site than I’ve lost. It’s allowed me to reconnect with students I taught thirty years ago.

Last night I was chatting with a member of the class of 1982. She gave me permission to link to her website. She didn’t give me permission to comment, but I will anyway. What can she do–flunk me?

I want to make it clear that I never taught Judy anything. I couldn’t have taught her anything. She already knew what she needed to know. She was a writer. A poet.

She entertained us periodically with essays describing her part-time job at a nearby country club. I have vivid memories of long, furry tendrils reaching out and wrapping themselves around her legs while she was cleaning out the walk-in refrigerator. Those memories, and others, told in nauseating detail, made me laugh even as I vowed to avoid that particular dining room.

In her junior year, Judy placed in a poetry contest at a nearby college. One of the judges said she’d wanted to place the poem higher, but it was too short. The next year, she won the competition with another poem–the same length as last year’s. I memorized it and later, when I was teaching at a local university, posted a copy of it on the door of my office.

After Judy graduated, I found her mentioned in an article in the Austin newspaper: UT student Judith Edwards had appeared at Eeyore’s Birthday Party in Pease Park wearing a python draped across her shoulders. The accessory seemed to me entirely appropriate. Her goals had never included conformity.

Here’s a link to Judy’s website: http://www.judywords.info/

Browse through her poems and stories. You’ll get an idea of the pleasure I had being her student.

***

P.S. I hesitate to add this–I mean, I hate to give readers who live outside the United States such a…truthful…view of Texas, but if you have a mind to, read Judy’s story “The Big Texan.”  She didn’t make it up. I wasn’t there, but I know it really happened.

The Tale of Kerwin, Part II: Ostracism

In yesterday’s post, I introduced my first best teaching story, that of Kerwin. Tonight brings that story’s stirring conclusion.

If you have not read Part I, please do so now. Part II will pack a much harder punch if you know what came before.

Since publishing Part I, I’ve realized I failed to name the librarian who serves as our main character. For convenience, I shall call her Mary.

And before beginning, I once again emphasize that although I know every detail of this story, and that Mary’s every thought and emotion resonates with me as if it were mine alone–even so, the story is not mine. The fact that Mary is my name as well as hers is mere coincidence.

Now to resume.

You recall that Mary has been stressed almost to the point of saying a word she has never said. And that it is the Class from Hail that she fears she will say it to.

I will not identify the C from H except to say that its students were old enough to know better. Period.

Mary and the C from H had maintained a peaceful coexistence for several months without incident. Mary had simply begun carrying a strong antacid in her purse on their class day.

On the day we meet them, Mary has prepared a lesson on reference books. She has made a set of transparencies. She plans to lecture. She plans to assign class work. She has great expectations. In the next forty-five minutes, she will turn the C from H into crack encyclopedia users.

Things did not go as Mary planned. Students came barreling across campus from the gymnasium. They were jiggly. They were wild. They did not care to sit and listen. Every time Mary opened her mouth, one of the C from H opened his or her mouth and spoke a gross irrelevancy. Mary thought about the antacid in her purse.

When, after eight or ten interruptions, Mary thought she had things under control, she began her lecture–again–but here came Kerwin. Late. Loud. Fully aware of the production he was making of himself.

Mary stopped, got Kerwin settled in his chair, got him settled again, got everybody settled again. Then she began–how many times now?–her talk.

For some reason, Kerwin decided he needed to move his chair. Halfway across the room. He stood, reached between his legs, took the seat of the chair in hand, and scooted it backwards across the carpet.

Now for another digression. I have described Mary as soft-spoken, polite, well-mannered. She was. But when pushed too far, Mary sometimes snapped. She increased in height. She became majestic. She spoke–not loudly–but even more softly, but in majestic, measured tones. She became Maya Angelou, Dame Edith Evans, John Gielgud, and the Incredible Hulk, all rolled into one. She was a most impressive sight.

And when Kerwin and his chair went scooting across the room, Mary snapped.

She strode over to Kerwin and took him oh-so-gently by the nape of the neck.

“Come with me,” she said. She turned and marched Kerwin to the door to the front room.

She had no idea where she was going or what she was going to do when she got there.

Once in the front room, she saw a chair by the front door. She marched Kerwin over to it.

“Sit there and don’t move,” she said.

She waved to the computer teacher to let her know Kerwin was there. Then she walked–majestically–back to the C from H.

When she walked in, the C from H were sitting at their tables. They were hushed. Their eyes were enormous.

Mary walked to the overhead projector, switched it on, pointed to the first transparency, and defined encyclopedia. She talked and talked and talked about the encyclopedia.

The C from H sat and stared with their great big eyes.

Finally, one of the C from H mustered enough courage to speak.

“Where’s Kerwin?” he said.

Mary answered, as if she’d never even heard of an antacid, “Kerwin has been ostracized.”

And in the little silence that followed, she saw one member of the C from H lean toward his neighbor and heard him whisper:

“She castrated him?”

If Mary’s career had a high point, this was it. Because she kept her cool. She got right back to her lecture.

She did not smile. She did not laugh. She did not fall on the floor and have a first-class case of hysterics.

She maintained her dignity.

When the time came, she escorted her class to the back door and shooed them out. Then she packed up her transparencies, shelved some books, did whatever had to be done before leaving campus.

Twenty minutes later, when she walked into the front room to return a reference book, she found Kerwin, still sitting in the chair by the door.

She’d forgotten to dismiss him.

He hadn’t moved a muscle.