It’s the last week of classes, and I was collecting piles of portfolios yesterday from my two creative writing classes. It’s been a long semester. I even took a mental health day a few weeks ago. I’ve never done that ever in my career, so you know it had to be a real need. What did I do that day? I graded and made sure all my grade books were up to date. That made me mentally healthy.
So yesterday I walked into the classroom and immediately I got the sweats. For those of you who know already, the sweats are really part of who I am. However, this time it wasn’t the Nervous Sweats or Sweats Of Great Jubilation or Swearing Through The Awkward. This time I started sweating because the classroom was 80 billion degrees, give or take a few. Because I teach in a building that’s a hundred years old—one of two that didn’t get closed down while the other one that didn’t seem worse but I suppose was actually did. Get closed down that is–the heat doesn’t regulate itself to adjust to the temperature outside. Now that it’s a typically cold season, the heater stays on no matter what’s happening outside, like the 50 degree weather. Unless of course you go to the bathroom, and in there it’s a balmy negative 2.
Side note: last year, one of the bathrooms stopped working in the building that did not get closed down this semester. It was the only lady’s room available unless you went to the third floor. Fact: I didn’t know there even was a third floor. One of my students came back to report it was creepy so the next time someone had to go, I yelled out, Bring a buddy! And they brought buddies, and I told them if they weren’t back in ten minutes, we’d all come up there looking for them, which back then was for their own safety, but right now I realize I could have caused extra distress for anyone having digestive afflictions. Thankfully they were back in under ten minutes and no one got murdered on the mysterious third floor. This is the building that remains open. This is also the building that currently has a gate and plywood and caution tape across a set of formerly automatic doors that led out to a ramp. There is now a makeshift ramp on the other side of the building, precariously build over dirt piles, blocking off any steps to the entrance, and not wide enough for a wheelchair to make a turn or for two people to cross paths. Again, this is the building that’s open.
I settled in to the 80 billion degree room as any adult would: by shouting Omigosh, you guys, it’s so friggin hot! Then I peeled away layers of outer wear and then a cardigan and then fanned myself down with brochures for the Writing Center that have been stacked on my podium all semester. At least this room has a podium, and at least the podium faces the class.
We got into greetings and salutations, and one of my students indicated a shiny red bag that I’d spotted sitting on my desk when I walked in. I rarely sit at that desk because of said podium. He was like, this is for you and you can open it now if you want.
And my reaction was, Really? Are you sure?
Once in my teaching career I’ve been given a gift. It was a journal and it was very sweet. Since then, I’ve mostly been given handshakes after which I Purell and the occasional awkward hug. I’ve also fended off both because germs don’t understand affection. Still, I’ve been open to big hugs and handshakes for those who really truly genuinely react that way. FYI: I never instigate the touching, even though sometimes in my mind, my normal reaction says to me, I’d give this person a hug in a different situation. Sometimes I’ll say something like, this portfolio was so good that I want to shake you OR your writing was so fantastic that I want to punch the wall! They laugh because the ones I say that to understand what passion is.
So now here’s a gift bag with a gift in it, and it’s guaranteed that it’s mine. Hmm. Whenever I see a name on a roster for an upcoming class that I recognize as someone who has taken a different class with me previously, I always assume they don’t remember what went down and probably enrolled with me again by accident. I know I’m a good teacher, but that means I really challenge my students at a college level, and I’ve been known to be a bit too sarcastic, which I genuinely have tried to tone down over the years because a lot of young people don’t get it and think I’m serious and rude. I can be all three but still I’ve tried to convert my sarcasm into some sort of dad joke vibe. Basically I’m a closet stand-up act, and I have a captive audience. This is the power that professors yield.
Back to the gift. I was like that’s so sweet! I’ll open it after we go over a few things to ensure you don’t want to take it back.
See? I’m funny.
We went over a few things, and he didn’t take it back, so I opened it, and it was a mug, and I said thank you about 8 billion times as we all sweated together, and I noted how I could drink my tea from it. There was a card, but I kept that for after everyone else had gone. Then he asked to take a picture with me, and because I’m now high off of being the recipient of a gift, I think I’m a pretty big deal, so I say yes to the picture, making sure he acknowledges that we will both look sweaty and gross, and I sit on the radiator that’s 80 billion degrees, and he leans back against the radiator next to me so that we’re the same height, which shows how he’s really the sweetest young man ever and his friend counts down the photo and then counts down a second, and I’ll point out again that I’m clearly a pretty big deal.
It’s probably one of the highlights of my teaching career not because of the gift itself but because lately I’ve come pretty close to giving up faith in everything about teaching and my overall institution.
Then in That’s About Right fashion, I walked into my next class bogged down with my rolly bag filled with portfolios, an armful of outerwear, my water, and the gift bag, sweat evaporating from my head and face. I plopped everything down and sat at the desk I haven’t really sat at a lot because the computer in this room is in a small metal box in the other corner, facing away from the class, and that’s where I conducted most of the lessons, but this was the last day, so I kept the desk where it was and sat on the other side of the room, which felt weird because I was facing them for once instead of twisting my body around.
One of my students was like, Is that a gift for me?
And I was like, someone gave that to me.
And they were all like, a student?
And I was like, yeah.
And they were like, Really?
And I was like, I know.
And they were like, Really?
And I was like, I was as confused as you.
Clearly I was not the only one. Several of them were convinced it was to get a higher grade but the gift-giver is super smart and doesn’t need bribery. There were two more students who came into my second class late, saw the gift, and then asked if they could go buy me something. I was like, I’ll take whatever you give me, but it won’t make your grade higher, and they responded with, never mind that’s cool I’m sure I’m fine.
And they’re all fine for the most part. This profession is fine for the most part. Sometimes, however, a little pick-me-up goes a long way to really change a perspective that’s been drowning in the part that hasn’t been so fine.