Friday, June 27, 2008

"Would I be correct in thinking you can neither see nor hear me? Then I'd like to tell you that you smell of pee and look like the wrong end of a dog.

Remember when you were in elementary school and you'd be in, say, the grocery store with your mom? Or at the gas station? Or at the movies? And suddenly you would see your teacher standing there, dressed in normal clothes, with her normal family, and looking all, well, normal? And you would exclaim "that's my teacher!! that's my teacher!"

Last Saturday I had just such an experience. Except, I'm not in elementary school. And I'm also not a teacher.

But. I was at breakfast with my friend and M, and I was carrying on a conversation, when suddenly I stopped. In mid-sentence. Which is totally unlike me. And I stared out the large window in front of our table. M and Brainy (my friend) were looking at me. Waiting for me to finish. But I was staring at a woman outside the window.

And I said, "that's my professor!! that's E.M.!" They looked at me blankly. I said, "you know, the one I had 2 English classes with? the one who wrote me a letter of recommendation to get into grad school? the one that asked me if I was going to 'bust a tear' when I argued with her about my grade?"

Brainy asked "did you win? did she change your grade?" I said "it was kind of a draw. she met me half way." And Brainy said, "well, that's something." And I guess it was.

She was a hard person to figure, that E.M. I had her my first semester at ASU, and my next to last. In the classroom she was tough. Demanding. Not particularly easy to please. Or impress. But when I ran into her on campus, it was almost as if we were colleagues. A feeling that I had become pretty accustomed to with my English teachers ever since my junior year of high school. But back in the classroom, E.M. was all business.

And so it was with her when I went to her to talk to her about my grade. I literally prayed. I had missed 3 classes that semester, for which the penalty was a reduction of one letter grade. For the first time in my "college career" (always hated that phrase) I had received a C+. So, scared nearly out of my wits, but knowing I had earned better than a C, I went up to her office to plead my case.

I explained how my first absence was due to a horrible migraine headache from which I suffered rather routinely, the second had been the extreme (and hospitalized) illness of my father in law which included open heart surgery, and the third had been for the funeral of my grandmother. I explained how I had worked hard to get my work done, and even turned in my final early so I could attend the funeral.

At which point she asked "are you going to bust a tear?" To which I replied, "I'd really rather not." She said I wouldn't be the first if I did. We exchanged some banter about my educational plans. She looked over my grades and issued the verdict: a B minus. Not exactly a triumphant win, but . . . it wasn't a C.

It all came rushing back to me as I sat there, mouth semi-agape, watching her with her daughters and grandchildren, tall and slender as ever, hair swept up into a bun as it usually was.

I toiled with the idea of approaching her. But what would I say? "Hi, um, E? Remember me? You taught me at ASU? Wanted me to cry for a grade? Wrote me a letter of recommendation that I hope was really good because I've never read it? Remember? Well, um, I got into grad school and I finished one semester. And now I'm toiling with when to go back. And if I go back, I'm trying to decide whether I'll continue at ASU or go to a new program based out of L.A. So, um, that's it, basically. Um. Bye." Something like that??


But it could go more like: "Hi, um, E? Remember me? You taught me at ASU?" And she'd look at me over the rim of her glasses, appraisingly, and reply "Yeah. And??"

Would she be colleague E or professor E?

I never much liked that whole "remember me" part of going up to someone who may or may not, in fact, know who the crap you are. So, I decided against interrupting her breakfast and her time with her family.

And I've been thinking about it ever since. Second guessing whether or not I should have just said something.

And sort of wishing I could have combined elementary school zeal with grad school pride and shown my face and said "howdy".

[Title quote is from "Stardust"]


Jonathan & Katherine Earl said...

I always told my 5th graders that it was OK to acknowledge that they knew me if they saw me in public...that usually meant that I got a screaming 11-year-old rushing at me to say, "Hi!" Those who had never seen me in public always seemed jealous of the few who had seen me. It was an even bigger deal if I had Nelson, Andrew, or "Mr. Earl" (!) with me. Jonathan was always something of a celebrity to my students. There are several of them that are coming to Utah this summer, and they all want to "do lunch" with which I replied, "Sure. We can have PBJ on my patio." I think I was always the giddy kid who just HAD to say something goofy to my teachers...especially at BYU where I thought half of them were on the verge of being something amazing (if they weren't already there). My students were also always so surprised to see me with jeans on or eating a candy bar. --Katherine

Jen said...

I hate that do you remember me part too. If i see somebody i know that i don't think will recognize me i never say anything and then i feel like i should have. but it doesn't change anything. cuz the next person i run into i still wonder and never say anything. i am lame!!

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