Teaching can be hazardous to your health.

Yesterday was a weird day. I painstakingly pored over some essays between classes, hoping to find some way to help my students across the bridge into good academic writing, not the stultifying obscurantism decried by those on the outside, but a subtle blend of the personal and professional that marks truly good research writing. After the morning class, I had a good conversation with Huey Crisp, the director of composition at my school. He has recently started calling the “research papers” written by his students “research articles” instead, to try to distance them from the sort of “reports” written in high school. I like that idea a lot. It makes it sound more like the writing involved is targeted at a larger audience than just a teacher, and allows the student to take the writing they produce more seriously outside the academic enterprise. As I read through the papers, I thought about the difference between obscurity and ambiguity, gestured at by the Lefebvre that I quoted a few days ago.

I was thinking so hard as I drove to the noon class, that I left all the papers I was working on at home. I arrived at school a half an hour early, as I usually do, but without the reason I drove there in the first place. Looking at my watch, I knew it would be close, but I might not be too late if I drove back to get them. I live fifteen minutes away from the school, but it was raining and the roads were all fairly flooded. I decided that being a little late would be better than showing up and making excuses.

I like driving. Little Rock is a fun city to drive in, because most of the roads aren’t straight, but long sweeping curves cut into hillsides. However, in the pouring rain that can work against you. About halfway home, on a four-lane road that is a fairly busy route, the rear end of my car broke traction rounding a blind turn. The car went into a full spin at around 40mph. I have grown use to being out of control back here, with all the ice in the winter and such, so I didn’t panic. In fact, it hardly registered at all. I gradually brought the car back under control after one full loop, using the spin to scrub off the speed and finally coming to a stop halfway through the second trip around, just before crossing the center divider into the oncoming traffic. The people coming around the corner were no doubt quite surprised to see the butt end of my car facing them, but I stopped before I got in their way. I calmly pulled back out, and went on my way. It could have been a real mess, but it wasn’t. I’m not sure if it was luck or skill, but I suspect it was a combination of both. Life has been that way for me. I do tend to put more faith in luck than I should, but it usually works for me when it needs to.

I made it home, and back to school without further incident and was only five minutes late. Class was jovial, and good. Then, when I got home I read another article: 13 teachers, two students, and one policeman were shot dead at a school in Germany. This rips my heart out. How can a place of discovery become a place of murder? Regular everyday life is hazardous enough without the added complications of armed students!

The inhospitable host made my website unavailable for about fourteen hours, so I wasn’t able to write about this then. But so this post won’t be a total downer, I must note one more student blooper from a paper about pre-natal care:

She consumed a baby when she was in the ninth grade.

Cannibalism, now that’s an entirely different topic altogether!

1 thought on “Hazards”

  1. teaching is treacherous (found this & thought about . . . well check out the whole article if you like) http://www.antigonishreview.com/bi-122/122-cameron.html So let me speak now of something I’d made up my mind to discuss at some point, namely the reason why I did not read Shelley’s “Defense of Poetry” until recently. It had to do with an “epiphany” that occurred at Harvard-Radcliffe during a freshman honors section meeting devoted to Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind.” The instructor waffled; he felt the poem’s power but was uneasy about liking a poet whose “stock,” as I had been told, was “down” (due to the New Critics). The students followed suit. At last they came to the words “I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!” – and with one voice, with a visible relief at finally being sure about something, pronounced the line “embarrassing.” I looked around the table at the well-groomed young men in their suits and ties pronouncing this line “embarrassing,” and felt a chill. Shortly thereafter I fled the English Department and went in for foreign languages. It did not help; I only ended up writing a dissertation on Paul Celan, who wrote quite a few lines like that, and who confronted me even more drastically with the job of reminding people that love, after all, is what this curious vocation is about. Love is difficult to express in poetry these days, that is, if one does not want to sound “unsmart” (Tony Whedon used this word recently in a related context). Of course one can talk about it, but always from a kind of face-saving distance. Oh hell! You know what I mean:

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