Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Back to school: report #1

This back-to-school thing is pretty weird. It would be less weird if I was a graduate student, but getting another undergrad degree is weird-beard TNT. Here's where it's OK: My teaching classes are full of people my age, older, and slightly younger, so that's not weird at all. It's nice having an age range of 19-50 in one classroom. My English classes are good. I get to read a lot of stuff I would probably have read anyway, or not read but wanted to, or not thought to have read, or hadn't heard of, or already read but wouldn't have re-read. My previous degree took care of the beginning English classes, so I'm only taking upper-class stuff. People in their early twenties are fine. I don't feel too far removed from them, and they seem okay. Here's where I'm struggling and feeling angry, stupid, sad, bored, and exasperated: the handful of generals I'm forced to take. I'm finding the 101 classes to be about the most difficult things I've ever done. I think something happens to your brain around age 25 that makes it harder to engage in rote memorization and test-taking. I'm having trouble memorizing things I don't care about. I always had that problem, but I could do it if I had to and crammed enough. Now, it's a goddamn insurmountable hurdle. I already paid these dues, motherfucker. And now my decrepit 30-year-old brain can only memorize facts I actually give a shit about. And I think I hate 18- and 19-year-olds more than any group of people on the planet. That may sound funny coming from someone who is planning on teaching high school, but there is a huge difference between a high school senior and a college freshman. Goofy, awkward teenager turns, overnight, into goofy, awkward teenager with responsibilities. Somehow, adult freedom turns these teenagers into jerks. And not just jerks. Stupid jerks. And these 101 teachers gear their lessons to these stupid jerks, and not the 30-year-old jerks like me, who really should have figured out what the fuck to do with their lives several years ago so they wouldn't be sitting in the same seat they were sitting in 12 years ago. For chrissakes, OJ Simpson is involved in another criminal imbroglio. It's 1995 all over again, and I have progressed exactly one inch since I graduated from high school. If Candlebox puts out a new album, I will commit suicide.

So, I'm pretty much going to have to drop my biology class because I'm a fucking idiot and not a visual learner and I'm too fucking old to be there, but I had my first classroom observation last week and I loved it. That made me feel good. Maybe I'm on the right track, even if I have to take three science classes, and Psychology 101, and an online Texas government whoop-di-do, and my old college roommates are well on their ways to Ph.D.'s while I sit in fucking Biology 101, completely lost. What fucking balderdash. Folderol! Fuck! Anyway, I observed a fourth-grade class, and will observe this class for nine more weeks, and it's nice to actually be reminded why I made this rough, tough, and undignified decision to play 18-year-old for the first three years of my thirties. (Although I have spent the last six years drinking beer, buying records, and going to movies while they worked their asses off.) A Reader's Digest condensed version of my first classroom observation.
Boy in John Cena shirt and girl with frizzy, curly hair staring at me in the office of the school.
Girl: We're half cousins.
They lead me to the classroom. I notice that we leave the school and are walking toward some kind of weird back entrance that doesn't look like where we are supposed to be.
Boy: We like going this way but lately they've been locking the doors.
The door is locked. The boy and the girl stand in front of the door for 30 seconds.
Me: Is there another way in?
Boy: Yeah, this way.
He leads me through doors that put us right where we were to begin with, and then to the classroom, which is just down the hall.
The teacher introduces me to the class, I tell them some things about myself. They introduce themselves to me. About half of them are shy and embarrassed, the other half outgoing and happy. One boy pumps his fist in the air and says the following: My name is Kevin. Yodelay-yi! Yodelay-yi! Yodelay-yi-hoo!
The whole class laughs, except for one surly young man with his arms crossed. He says: Yeah, he's funny. He's funny. He's funny. He's not funny.
Girl: He is too funny.
Boy: Shut up.
They discuss a short story they read the previous week. The teacher reads a passage describing a boy dressing for winter. When she reads the words "long underwear," the class explodes in laughter.
I like these kids.

Campus report: Current indie-rock fashion may be changing, if UT trends can be believed. I thought campus would be overrun with asexual anorexics in tight, ill-fitting, multi-colored clothes, sneering at everyone while sharing a single Ramen noodle. I've only seen two of these butt-nuts in 4 weeks. Oddly, everyone looks the same at the University of Texas as they did at the University of Nebraska 8 years ago, except that shoes are much more colorful, nobody wears flannel, and, of course, iPods are everywhere. Cell phones seem to be less omnipresent than I feared. Everyone carries one, but there's less constant chattering than there was the last time I ventured onto UT premises. That's a good sign. I'm still confused about how the craziest lunatics in town--I'm talking the craziest, the guys who can't figure out how to stop confusing Jesus with Mickey Rooney or stop talking to themselves or stop carrying around 68 plastic bags--can always seem to find a campus student union. If you think bugs are crawling on your skin and your name is 56 Galactitroid, how the fuck do you get it together enough to find the food court at the student union of the university?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i could not pass a bio 101 class if my life depended on it. i think the cut-off for being able to cram a useless cacophony of shit into your cranium in any retrievable form is about 23. the last class i took at UNL was history 101 and even though i had managed a 3.95 up until that point, i had to take this exercise in knucklewalking pass/no pass to keep from getting a D. law school is the same thing. the first time around (age 25, so maybe my initial age calculations were off) studying for the exams was almost embarrassingly easy (i was able to stuff months worth of info in my head in a night and hold it in for the requisite 24 hours). the second time around (age 30) even studying for one class was a nightmare, mainly because i've lived enough life to know that there is no real reason to want to retain, even momentarily, a pile of disconnected minutiae. (which means that you start connecting it, just to rationalize the time your investing, which leads you quite far astray from what They are testing you on.)

i guess what i'm saying is: don't get too frustrated. for anyone who has acquired a modicum of wisdom, or even genuine intellectual curiosity, the back to school gig would be an intellectual contortion bound to produce ginormous amounts of brain-heart-nut ache. which is the sort of depressing, but maybe not too depressing, part of general undergraduate education in general: it's purpose is just to try to catalyze in students--in mass-quantities, in a quasi-Fordist/fast-foodist way--some desire to want to know something about anything. but once you have that, going back through the process is likely to give your mind, or at least your spirit, a knee-weakening case of the bends. and then if your not careful, you'll split yourself open and shit yourself sideways. and that, my brother from another mother, will truly hurt. and smell. bad.