First Class

Later I would be chosen as the first Rhetoric teacher to be awarded an Honors Seminar. Earlier I had substitute taught about one of my favorite topics—The Theater of the Absurd—in a friend’s Rhet class and it went well. It was on the Q.T. so he wouldn’t get in trouble because I had not been hired to be a Teaching Assistant as had most of my classmates. I never knew why. It hurt my ego badly. Someone told me that Mr. M. thought I looked too young.  I really did look very young and as I, dressed in my one sports coat, dark purple with red stripes (my Father’s purchase), my class text and notes in hand, which I had pored over and re-arranged until I destroyed all confidence, and my mind echoing Dr. M.’s words, which might not even be what he said: ‘Too young, too young,’ I approached the door of the classroom having waited out of abject, hand-clamming fear for all the students to be in the room before I arrived.

Avoiding eye contact, I was a robot, walked in stiffly, had to pass the rows of students on the side to get to the front of the room, looked at no one, could hear gawking, “ too young, too young, Who’s he?, skinny, nervous, “look at that coat, those thick, black owl glasses (my Father),” deathly silence. Worked my way toward the front of the classroom, no eye contact, looking ahead at the blackboard, side glancing at the old, brown desk in the center of the room, the color of a cigar. Sidled toward it, the gawking getting louder, put my notebook and text on the desk, walked to the blackboard, back still squarely to the class.

“Turn around, turn around now!,” my heart screamed louder and louder.

Made it to the blackboard. Thankfully there was chalk, a big, yellow, whole stick of chalk. Picked it up. Panicked as my frantic mind did not remember the assignment. Murmurs began to buzz. Walked sideways to the desk to pick up the text. A furtive glance at the class. Saw one smiling student—Patty Smith—who became my best student. Returned to the blackboard. Print-scrawled the title of the text and the page number of the assignment on the board. Dropped the yellow chalk and left the broken pieces at my feet. 

Turned and faced astonishment and quavered: “This is the assignment for you to read for our next class in the Principles of Writing.” Turned back and faced the board. Erased the assignment. Hastily rewrote it, more neatly I think. Listened to the class tide ebb out the door. Left when no one could possibly still be in the hallway.

It got a lot better after that.

Published by Adelaide Magazine