I am a firm believer in the saying “in learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn.” Taking my teaching role very seriously, I hold professors to a certain expectation and create a theoretical syllabus in my heads that they must uphold. Most students do this; we simply expect them to follow their own rules that they have laid out for us. A particular syllabus given to me by a “Professor Chillings” boasted only one behavioral expectation: “Students must attend all classes and complete every reading on the syllabus in a timely fashion. In each class they must engage with the reading through active participation, asking and responding to questions, spearheading discussions, and making claims that demonstrate forethought.”
Diving into 18th century history on a Tuesday afternoon, Dr. Chillings was off to a good start as she “spearheaded discussion.” However, right as Charles II was about to behead the skeletons of the men who had taken part in the beheading of his father, an unfamiliar girl with long blonde hair half knocked, half opened the door of the classroom. While attempting to look at Professor Chillings’ face as opposed to her shirt which revealed a dire need for a bra, the girl muttered: “Uhm, hi. My name is Emily. Sarah is in the bathroom and she is not feeling well. She wanted me to come get her stuff from this classroom. I think she is going to go to the hospital.”
Abandoning her usually dull voice, Chillings produced a novel vocal expression as she spoke in an astonished, monotone manner: “What! Is she okay? What is wrong with her? Should I go in there and sit on the floor with her?” Emily quickly reassured that Sarah was okay for now but had just recently undergone surgery and was sitting on the floor crying from pain…
“Oh my goodness. This has never happened to me. I’m not qualified for this. What do I do? Does anyone know what to do? Who do I call?”
Processing her question, I realized that most expectations cannot be created until experiencing a teacher/student doing something disgusting or disappointing, irritating, or simply immature and embarrassing. So my internal syllabus had a long way to go and many teachers to critique. This particular day, additions to the syllabus occurred quickly. Out of sheer shock at the senselessness of the question asked by Professor Chillings, a rule was added: “At the start of the semester, the following must be memorized, understood, and engrained in your memory: ‘In the case of an emergency, please hang up and call 9-1-1’”.
A shy girl in the back corner of the room stared incredulously at the professor, while two more verbose girls near the door shielded their laughs and gossiping mouths with their folders.
Emily, now regretting her Good Samaritan inclination to help the girl in the bathroom, shook her head unknowingly while not-so-nonchalantly backing out of the room. Oh how badly I wanted to be Emily at that moment and watch this classroom fade from my theoretical rearview mirror…
Instead, I witness a full-grown, refined woman panicking and overreacting, while still managing to keep an expressionless face and pace within just the four foot radius surrounding her isolated desk in the front of the room. Like one would ask someone to repeat their coffee order, she again asked what number to call in an emergency…I chimed in, “uhm…9-1-1?” Perhaps there is such a thing as a thoughtless question. Does that still count as showing active participation and asking questions?
Fumbling with her cell phone frantically and battling typos while the rest of her body stood straight, Dr. Chillings reached the front desk of the CCSU campus police. That is a “minus” for responding to questions and statements by classmates, as the CCSU Campus Police was not 9-1-1. While she informed the police officer of the container of pills Sarah kept on her desk, it occurred to me that Dr. Chillings had to have thought to herself at one point that it was odd for a student to have a large quantity of pills out in the open. I put myself in Dr. Chillings’ mind: “Maybe I should say something? No that is not in my job description”. Addition number #3 to the my syllabus: “Each person is permitted to have no more than 300 milligrams worth of pills/drugs on his or her desk at any given time.”
Nervous eyes fell on each of us as Dr. Chillings anxiously scanned the room and regrettably informed the man that she did not know how to answer all of his questions because- you guessed it– she was not qualified. Clearly, Dr. Chillings had not come to class prepared and with all necessary readings completed; I am sure that each student’s hypothetical syllabus for their professors has the “Emergency Preparedness Brochure” as the first required reading. What had been relayed from Emily to Dr. Chillings as a girl in pain on the floor was relayed from Dr. Chillings to the campus police as “She’s on the floor. I think she is having a heart attack or a seizure or something. I think it’s a seizure…”
What!? Lady! Are you even aware of anything going on around you!? You cannot just scramble together your theories as you go along! Where is your textual evidence!? Close reading was a course objective, so I marked her down instantly; there is no possible way to back up the deriving of that meaning, not everything is up to interpretation.
Classmates began spitting out corrections, assuring that it is not a seizure but pain from a recent surgery; Chillings would have none of it. As students, we were engaged in active participation and “making claims that demonstrate forethought”; we offered a logical answer but to no avail. Correct me if I am wrong, but I would not call a seizure diagnoses of a college girl crying on a bathroom floor a “claim that demonstrates forethought.”
Questions rapid fired from Chillings’ mouth, from wondering how the men were going to get up the stairs to whether or not she should sit on the bathroom floor.
I’m no genius, but my guess is that they are going to use their legs to walk up the stairs and we already know you are not qualified to go sit on that bathroom floor. For goodness sake- this is 300-level class.
I voiced out loud that the bathroom idea would probably worsen the situation, and voiced quietly that asking the same senseless question multiple times does not count as continuing to ask thoughtful questions. The next question that came out debated whether or not we should cancel the remainder of the class because of the situation. I guess she no longer felt that “students must attend all classes.” Hopeful expressions were shared as the dreadful three hour class could very well end two hours early. The sound of sirens suddenly filled the classroom. Dr. Chillings’ eyes widened as she asked if they were for us. How was I supposed to know? I already told her the number to call in case of an emergency, and she had failed to comply…Participation grade for me: 100%. Participation grade for Dr. Chillings: N/A.
Verbalizing a mental pros and cons list, Chillings told us her supposedly final decision: “I really would cancel class to let everyone recuperate and relax, but we can’t. We only meet once a week and I already cancelled last week’s class because it was Yom Kippur and I had to do all of my prayers and shit.”
Oh! Why didn’t you say so!? It would be a travesty to miss something that clearly holds such a crucial place in your heart.
Alone, her reasoning seems absurd and a bit misconstrued; put into context, it becomes downright preposterous. A girl who had been paying close attention bent over to her classmate and asked for clarification on what the teacher had just said. Half of the class assumed that they heard wrong and were searching for correction, while the other joined my reaction; I was laughing with my head in my hands as my face turned bright red and my mind processed the farcicality of her statement. I made a mental note to explain my “absence policy”: “Class may not be missed for any events or situations that involve ‘shit’; this applies to both the shit that describes an annoying or worthless person, and the feces and excrements from the human and/or animal body.”
The phone rang and Chillings confidently answered,
“Her name? I don’t know. No, I don’t have that either. Okay, yes. Thanks.”
She turned to us, “does anyone know her name? They want her blue chip ID number, but when I was devoting all of my students’ ID numbers to memory last night with all of the free time I have, I must have skipped hers.”
Is that sarcasm…? This must be what the syllabus meant when it confirmed that within this course we will witness “the emergence of a distinct species of satire.” Whether it be the two girls holding back laughs, the two looking at Chillings wide eyed and opened mouth, or the few that were laughing out loud, I think we were all on the same page; those that were laughing were certainly not laughing with her.
As the police called for the final time to inform that Sarah was currently in the ambulance and on her way to the hospital, a dumbfounded expression crossed Chillings’ face and commanded the attention of every student in the room for the first time this semester. They had not found the student in the system, but Dr. Chillings was just focused on knowing if Sarah was in proper care (and out of hers). She sat back down into her seat and prepared to get back on course. In remembrance of Dr. Chillings’ satirical comment to the police, I added “Bluechip IDs no longer have to be memorized, a class list will be sent out” to my mental syllabus and stared at Chillings. I was astounded by her inability to handle the situation but also curious as to why she responded to a tense situation with inappropriate and snarky comments right in front of the entire class. My question was answered as I glanced down to the top of her syllabus and read that students will witness “departure from and reinvention of traditional norms.” I added that requirement to my own syllabus, and Dr. Chillings received an “unsatisfactory”, having fulfilled only this one prerequisite.