I was at a meeting the other day that reminded me of something I haven't thought about for years.
It was my first full-time year of college. I was 15. As I've mentioned before, I started college via a special program when I was 14. My first year, I took three classes at the "Transition School" (History, English, and Math) and one regular college class each quarter. My first year classes were Psychology 101, Spanish 101 and Music 105 (essentially music appreciation—a great class that still benefits me to this day). I was very excited about starting college full-time in the fall. I knew I had to take Math 105 (pre-calculus; calculus would have done the trick, but I would have failed) and Spanish 102 to fulfill my "high school deficiencies." Since three classes were a standard load on the quarter system, I could take one more class of my choosing. My choice was an English class—a literature class. Anything but composition (I have never taken a college-level composition class, unless you count creative writing).
I picked a class, got the syllabus, and read the books all summer long. Then, I didn't get into the class. Freshmen had low priority for enrollment and I didn't make the cut. I found another literature class with an ok reading list, and I signed up for it.
Our class was small for the UW, with only 30 students. The instructor was a young-ish grad student, teaching for the first time. "Evan"* wanted to have a discussion-style class with no lectures. I remember taking a few pop quizzes and writing a couple of essays. I made friends with a couple of girls and the three of us usually sat together. One of them was dismayed at an early quiz because she couldn't remember the names of the characters in the book. I smiled and nodded because I couldn't imagine NOT remembering the names of the characters. I also went to at least one required meeting with the instructor to discuss an essay topic. He thought that I was younger and asked me something that led me to explain that I was in the Early Entrance Program. He seemed pleased (or relieved) that he'd been right about my age.
I knew he liked me as a student because I talked a lot. His whole discussion thing was slow to get going since most of the folks in the class had no desire to talk. One group of guys always sat in the back row and never said anything. My two friends would say something every once in a while. And there was a slightly older student, maybe in her early 20s, who talked a lot and said nothing. Everyone hated her. Even the instructor.
Class was only 50 minutes long, but her rambles could last for ten or fifteen minutes. Evan was not good at cutting her off, but sometimes she would take a breath and he would turn to me and say, "So, Jamy, what's your take on that?"
Many classes began with him asking me what I thought about a particular book or theme that he wanted to discuss. After I would get the ball rolling, a few other people would join in, he would say a few things and then the crazy woman would talk. Still, it was usually not a complete loss.
I remember one day in particular, we were reading The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. The crazy woman got the floor and started in on a long rant about literary theory's interpretation of the story. It was all a bunch of gobbledygook. She might have been right in her application of feminist theory and deconstructionism, but the rest of us had no idea what she was talking about. Evan tried to stop her but she rolled right over him and we got about fifteen minutes of blah, blah, blah about Foucault, Derida, and Lacan. After which, Evan turned to me and said, "So, Jamy, what did you think of the story?"
After an initial loss for words, I said something (exactly what, I can't remember), and soon after that, class was over.
As I walked out of the building, one of the back-row boys caught up with me. I recognized him, but we'd never talked. He said, "Can you believe her? She's too much. Today was the worst she's ever been."
"I know! She's terrible. But…I worry…I wonder if you think I'm just as bad."
"You? Oh no. We don't mind when you talk. At least we can understand what you're saying."
We both laughed and I was relieved. I knew I was talking a lot and I didn't want to bore my classmates. But I felt some responsibility to help Evan out if I could.
You'd think I'd remember my grade in the class, but I don't. Maybe a 3.8? That's basically an A-. You'd think for all the work I did saving my instructor's ass, he'd have given me the 4.0, but my paper writing skills were not the best. I recall him being consistently disappointed in my essays. Oh well. I certainly aced all the little pop quizzes—but those were just to make sure we did the reading. I enjoyed the reading so that was a non-issue.
After that class, I never hesitated to talk if I had something to say. A lot of my teachers counted class participation as part of the grade (which I never did when I taught, since it's impossible to quantify), so I talked. I wasn't the best essay writer, so I wanted to make sure I got full credit for participation.
I guess I don't care if you think I talk to much as long as you don't think I'm boring and you can understand what I'm saying.
*I do remember his name, though I changed it for the story. I did a google search and found that he's the chair of the English Department at a small state school. I almost emailed him to see if or how he remembered that class, but I didn't. Should I?
Grateful for: talking.
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