Physically spent. Mentally mush. Emotionally exhausted. The end of the fall semester and I was toast.
As an adjunct professor every semester is like a blind date, or my tennis serve, you never know what you are going to get. I teach Art History survey classes and Fine Art studio classes at two community colleges in San Diego. Pre-covid one of my bosses asked if I would be willing to teach a college Art History class at a local high school, the idea being to introduce high school students to college. “Fuck no” spewed from my mouth before he could finish his pitch. When covid hit, my boss stated, “You are teaching a class at the high school,” my “fuck no” landed on deaf ears and high school zoom-land became my reality.
It started out ok, they checked in, I showed some art, gave an assignment, and an hour and twenty minutes later we waved bye-bye. A huge positive was the smaller class size, 25 students as opposed to the college zooms of 45, piece of cake. I was enjoying the high school kids - so much so that on a Friday night, with a bottle of wine, I watched their 3 ½ hour-live-zoom production of Les Misérables; my biggest screwups had leading roles and sang their hearts out. Jean Valjean could not remember Monet to save his life but he did not miss one line and knocked “Bring Him Home” out of the park, I was so proud! Then the world opened and the joys of laptop lecturing ended; in-person classes were required. Fuck.
The fall semester is a marathon regardless. Classes start in August, summer, when no one wants to be in class and there is no break until Thanksgiving by which time no one can stand the sight of anyone else. Then it is a slam and suck-it-up period until mid-December. It is endless.
There I was in August at a high school. Fuck. I had given myself endless pep-talks, seriously, how different could it be in person? Hmmm, turns out LOTS!! It was a lot different in person! Most notably, there was no “end meeting” red button to click. There was no “mute all” button. There was no “bye-bye” wave. There was no escaping them.
Day one on campus. Initially I thought I was walking into a post sleep-over party, so many students were wearing pajama bottoms. Why and where did this trend come from? I am all for rolling out of bed but this seemed extreme. Matching, or coordinating, with the pj’s was a fashion fiesta ranging from crop tops to army jackets to ballerina tutus. These kids put serious thought into how they were presenting themselves. One of the more showstopping outfits was on a soon-to-be Art History star who waltzed in wearing a pink leather halter bikini top paired with a cheerleader skirt and white leather platform boots which would have been the envy of any cast member from Priscilla Queen of the Desert. I scanned the room looking for reactions but not one looked up or paid any attention. I quickly learned that teaching in High School was like teaching in a prison, the key was not to react and for the love of god don’t show fear.
During my first class there were two immediate and obvious challenges, head-phone chick and the floor sitter. Headphone girl came in with massive headphones which almost toppled her over. I said, “no headphone in class” to which she replied, “I can hear you” then promptly put her head on the desk and closed her eyes. Always important to declare the vibe of the classroom on the first day, it is like peeing on your territory; but I had not received my “paperwork” yet and did not know about any “accommodations” so I let this slide. Besides, I had the sitter to deal with. This young man came in and sat on the floor with his back to the screen – an act which he repeated throughout the semester. Floor sitter was the easy one, all I had to do was yell and he would ever so politely acknowledge me and then sit in his chair at which point I would quietly say, “I yell because I care.” It was our routine. Headphone chicky was another story. On one of my rants to the counselors I learned that she did not have accommodations for headphones to be worn in class – I had been played – game on. From that day forward it was war. Headphone chick was not letting go easily. She lost the headphone battle but then insisted on keeping her eyes closed with her head on the desk. Keep in mind that this is Art History, the visuals are rather important. Every time I reminded her of this fact she would reply, “I’m listening!” Bless her heart, she held her ground and fought the good fight until I played my professor power card and booted her from the class. Tears flowed but the ball had dropped.
I repeatedly reminded everyone that this was indeed a college class and they were expected to act like college students; I might as well have asked the JV ping-pong team to be ready for Wimbledon. Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore. I too was out of my league. The poor receptionist at the front door would look at me with pity as I entered and as I left. I went into the councilor’s office after every class so that I could vent my frustrations and eat their candy. But then around mid-semester I was thrown a bone, floor sitter stayed late after class and said, “You are my favorite teacher.” Awwwww! My heart warmed. Why fight it. I learned to roll with the world-class Eddie Haskell suck-ups and the defiant fuck-you groupies. Even the bathroom boys who left the classroom at the same time every class did not rile me. We forged on together. By December we were all exhausted for all our own reasons, but we finished.
The New Year brings a new semester and in another few weeks I will be back at the high school. I will be rested and ready – and I will have a bottle of wine on ice for the spring production of ABBA. Mamma Mia here we go again!