Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Being Me

Have you ever been in a position where you were doing your best to... not be you?

I've mentioned that I just returned to university, this Fall. Considering that I'm 1) older and probably rustier than most students, 2) likely to openly object to insult and incorrect information from the instructor, and 3) sickly and "grown" enough to probably need more excused absences and exceptions, I thought it best to keep a low-profile.

Personally, I believe that the classroom is no place to hide one's ignorance - strange though that may sound. If a student doesn't understand something or mistakenly believes that s/he has the correct answer, that student should feel encouraged to express him- or herself. I'm so rusty on the prerequisites, though, that I feel my rustiness may be a bit too conspicuous for public consumption.

So, I tried to keep my mouth shut.

I've been in too many situations where instructors come to class 15-20 minutes late, then expect the entire class to stay 15-20 minutes after class to make up for lost time... and I was the only one to openly object. I've been in classes where instructors assume that any objection from a student must, by definition, equate to bullshit. On one level, I can't blame'em, but really, we should judge an idea or an objection on its own merits, not the age or position of its originator. Still, speaking up too loudly or too often could leave a bad taste in the instructors' (or the students') mouths.

So, I tried to keep my mouth shut.

Finally, I've got enough chronic illnesses and outside responsibilities that rubbing instructors and administrators the wrong way is likely to result in most cost than profit. I anticipate needing more legitimate excused absences than the average student, so I need to remember that old saying about shitting where you eat.

So, I tried to keep my mouth shut.

Between all of that and my accumulated life experiences, I really and truly tried not to say anything when my instructors would clearly imply that we're a class of liars and bullshit artists. I really tried not to speak up when I kept hearing how "easy" this or that is... from someone with multiple advanced degrees and more professional experience than we have life experience.
But recently...

I just couldn't keep my mouth shut.

I'd just about bitten my tongue bloody by the time a certain instructor mentioned the fact that someone in the class (me, although he didn't point me out or name me) had e-mailed him, saying that the university computers were malfunctioning, making it difficult-to-impossible to complete the upcoming assignment. This instructor went on about how I (the anonymous student) could've Googled the program or we could've gotten a copy from him or not waited until the last minute.

Like I said, he never called me out, but I couldn't take anymore, so I called myself out. Instead of sitting there, quietly, like on so many other days, this time I objected to his objectionable points.

"I did NOT lie about the computers malfunctioning; in fact, I provided the names and numbers of university employees who could confirm this fact."

"I DID Google the program, but the search results lacked all the necessary parts to form a complete, working program."

"You had copies in your office? I didn't know that. Did you mention that in class? No? Okay."

It was a little uncomfortable for a while, but I eventually shut up and let it lie until the end of class. I continued to participate in class discussions/activities and waited until I had a private audience with him.

We went back and forth, in his office, for a while, and he pointed out some very valid reasons why he might doubt the word of some students, including me. In the end, though, either the strength of my points, the sincerity in my voice, or the soft spot in his heart, he agreed to allow me a little more time to complete the assignment.

This isn't some monstrous instructor I'm talking about here. He's just an intelligent, flawed, sometimes reasonable, sometimes less-reasonable human-being trying to really discern shit from shinola.

So far, I'm not sure which he thinks I am, but I'm quite pleased that "being me" didn't hurt me in the short-term and that I'll have more opportunities to prove to him and to myself that I'm capable of not just passing this course, but mastering the concepts and applications it encompasses.

I guess we'll see.


Michael May said...

Good story, man. I love it when conflict can be resolved rationally instead of someone's insisting on being bullheaded.

And good for you for sticking up for yourself. I understand why you'd be tempted not to.

B. Good said...

West, you are quickly becoming one of my favorite people. You should always be you!

I know it was HARD to sit by idly while someone's misrepresenting you to the masses. Even though he wasn't directly calling you out, he was definitely baiting you, and I don't blame you for speaking up for yourself.

At least now he knows who he's dealin with. You'll show him!

nikki said...

i'm so glad you said something, but then you've never been one to keep quiet. if anything, not saying something has never been your way and i love you for it, even when we don't agree.

it'll get better over the long haul. at least you're establishing early that they need to respect you.

Liz said...

I hate when folks do that passive aggressive third person bull. He should have manned up and pulled you to the side before he addressed it to the class. I'm glad you spoke up and that it turned out okay.

What are you doing a degree in?