Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Oh, This Again

The auto students at my school and I have an interesting history. The normal track auto students--the ones that are going to come out as regular ol' mechanics--get along with me like no one's business. I could be their Gal Friday, their partner in crime. I could be a girl they'd eat pizza and drink beer with. They think, Huh. She's a nerdy English teacher, yeah, but you know what? She's not so bad. I surprise them.

But they aren't the only auto students on campus. The other track of automotive study here is a split-time track that has students on campus part of the semester and off campus for the rest. They learn and practice at school and then they go off and work at a participating dealership for the rest of the term. I don't know what it is about this option, but these boys somehow think they are God's Great Gift. They think they are Kings of All Kingly Things. They think they deserve the first and last words, and that their words are the best words that ever dripped from a pair of lips.

It's not just me who thinks this. It's common knowledge. If you reveal to another professor that you've got a group of dealership kids this semester, they'll suck their breath in through their teeth and make the same face that Amy and I saw that summer we were driving home from camping at Long Point and her car's radiator blew. Every few minutes another Canadian would slow his car down next to us--two stranded girls from the States waiting for AAA--and say, "What seems to be the problem, ladies?" When we'd tell them the symptoms, they'd all make the exact same face--a grimace--and say, "Oooooh. Sounds like the radiator. That's no good."

The Radiator Face is the face I get from other professors when I say, "Yeah, I'm teaching the dealership boys this semester."

And it's not even just the professors who give that look. It's students, too. Especially the normal track auto students. When they hear who I've got in class, they will look at me with wide eyes. "Jesus," they will say. "Those kids are monsters. Terrors. They're fucking assholes."

Oh, and they are. They don't listen. They don't do their work. They sit around saying things like, "Hey, motherfucker! Shut the fuck up!" to their friends in the middle of a lecture. They say things like, "I am so going to rape my car on the way home tonight." They say things like, "Meeeeoooow!" when I tell them if they don't shut up and do their work, they aren't going to like what happens to their grades.

I have these guys again this semester. I thought I'd given myself enough space and time from the horrible spring semester last year. I thought I'd be able to go into a class dominated by these guys again and come out without wanting to put a stake through my heart.

I thought wrong.

This semester is made extra heart-wrenching because there are eleven of those dealer-track auto boys in my class; the other six are normal students enrolled in who knows what--Liberal Arts, General Studies, Machine-Tool, Graphic Arts, or whatever. They all sit on one side of the room, very far away from the auto boys, and they do their work, smile at me, say please and thank you. They do what good students do, and I love them for it. If it weren't for them, I would lose my mind. Still, they complicate the situation, too. They're good kids and good students, and they're doing what I ask them to, but most of my time is spent babysitting the other side of the classroom--who, if it weren't for my constant monitoring, badgering--would spend the six hours a week throwing pop cans and wads of paper and spit at each other. I know this affects the level and quality of education the other students are getting. If it were just them in the classroom, I'd be able to do so much more. I'd be able to work at a faster pace--and they wouldn't be bored--and I'd be able to teach more complicated things.

Today I spent time explaining the difference between a comma and an apostrophe because a good chunk of the auto students really did not know. Today I spent time explaining why it was important to capitalize things. The good students looked up at me with attentive faces, but I knew they were bored, they were pissed, they were wishing they'd signed up for some other section--a section that didn't have so many idiots in it. Each time I leave their class exhausted, irritated, defeated, and riddled with guilt. I want to do right by all my students, but I am struggling to make everything balance.

How does a girl balance?

Of course, not all the dealer track boys are bad. There are some that are downright apologetic, trying to make amends for their more ridiculous peers. I feel the worst for them. They take every class with the same guys, so they are always surrounded by people who could care less that they--the good ones, the nice ones--are really trying to learn something.

Today I saw two of my favorite students from last semester--my twins--who just so happen to be auto boys themselves. One of them came right up to me and hugged me and said, "You know, I hear you have the dealer boys."

One of the twins' friends--the boy who sat between them last semester in our composition class--is in my class with the dealership boys. He is one of the good ones, one of the ones who does such good work, one of the ones who is clever and thorough and smart, and there are times when I look at him and feel so, so, so heavy with guilt because I know he's capable of such a higher level of education.

"You heard from Jon," I said.

"Yeah," he said. "He told us he likes the class, that he's walking through it, really, and that he feels so sorry for you all the time because those guys are killing you."

"They are killing me," I sighed.

"Yeah," he said. "I know. I know."

And I know, too. It's spring semester '08 all over again. But even if I had to mix myself a drink as soon as I got my coat off tonight, and even if I had to put my head down on the counter for a minute after I took my first sip, I know there's relief in sight. This is only a half-semester course, and I only have to put up with them until the first week of March. After that, it's see-ya-later, kids. After that, I only have to come to campus two days a week. I will spend my new days off lying in silence and enjoying that I don't have to listen to the clack-clack-clack of their words ever again.

And if I ever start talking about maybe taking on one of these dealer-boy classes again, I want someone to toss a dart at my head. Just take me out. It'll be better that way.

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