“I don’t know what kind of drugs you’re on, but can I have some? They are obviously so good that they are making you delusional!”
Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I’d be doing what I am doing. I wasn't the best undergraduate, and when I graduated with my BA, I said I was never going to step foot in a classroom again, never mind lead a class.
So when I last left this series, we were talking about my transition from a USF teaching associate (basically assistant, but with a slightly different title) to Visiting Assistant Professor at Mizzou. Before we start going down the road - feeling bad with the Grateful Dead - we have to go backwards. I have a story to tell about my time at USF.
I was giving a test in my three-hour evening organizational communication class. The exam was the first half of the class, and then when done, we would reconvene for the second half of class to start the next lecture. What I did not realize was baby momma, baby daddy, and baby daddy’s ex-girlfriend were all in my class. Let’s call them Lisa, Armondo, and Sandy.
As students are finishing up the test, I hear screaming in the hallway outside the door. The door flies open and Lisa and Sandy are screaming and scratching at each other. I jump up out of the chair at the front of the class and head toward the door.
“I am going to kill you, bitch,” Armondo yells at Sandy, as he shoots up from his test and lunges toward the door.
I turn (inside my head thinking, “Your are not supposed to touch students”) and touch him on the shoulder anyway. Now Armondo is a BIG guy. We are talking football player big – offensive lineman BIG! A GIANT! HULK-LIKE!
“Sit down Armondo. Finish your test,” I say. “I got this.”
Surprisingly, he did. And surprisingly he believed me.
(I was surprised, because - let’s face facts – “I got this” was a lie. There is no manual that outlines what you are supposed to do when two young women start fighting in your class while other students are in the middle of taking an exam.)
I got in-between Lisa and Sandy.
“You leave now. Don’t come back,” to Sandy.
“You, head to my office and wait for me,” to Lisa.
Obs, I cancelled the second half of class.
The next morning we all ended up in the Dean’s office.
(As an ironic aside, when I was in college I spent a lot of time in the Dean’s office myself – I was always in trouble. Funnily, the Dean’s office at USF was Room 219, the same room number as the room I had detention when I was at Middlesex High School.)
I could not attest to whom – Lisa or Sandy – started the fight in the hallway. Sandy filed a formal complaint against Armondo because he threatened her. He was suspended from school for a semester. Lisa and Sandy were both put on disciplinary probation. Me? I learned a lot: about classroom management; about dealing with troubled interpersonal relationships amongst students; about dealing with administration.
After USF, I headed off to Mizzou, where I started teaching more classes that I’d never taught before: Gender, Language, and Communication and The Senior Capstone – The Organizational Communication Audit.
Some of my favorite students – and friends now – come from my time at Mizzou. Katie Gonzalez is one. Then there is Sommer Henderson whom I cannot praise enough. She’s the bomb and one of KC's Most Wanted. (In a good way!) And Sarah Birsic, whom I adored. Sarah died much too young in an ATV accident. A teacher should not outlive their students. I found out on Facebook – and I wrote about how I found out and my reaction to her death in my piece on Ghosts.
I learned more at Mizzou – particularly about over-sharing with students. In some ways, I made the same mistake that Deborah Tannen did when she wrote You Just Don’t Understand: Men and Women in Conversation. What she now admits is that as she was going through a divorce at the time, her failing personal relationship deeply and negatively influenced how she wrote the book.
I was just going though a terrible break-up that included lies, cheating…the whole nine. This was the first woman I thought about marrying after the disengagement debacle four years earlier in 2004, which I wrote about in How Did We Get This Far Apart? (Titled after a song by The Cure, btw. I also listened to The Cure tune “A Thousand Hours” a lot then too.)
In the fall of 2008, my first semester at Mizzou, I was not in good emotional shape. I was variously:
I’ll admit it: I over-shared. A LOT. I let my personal feelings get in the way of my professional activity. That was an error on my part. I never made that mistake again.
Kathy Denker – who was a doctoral student at Mizzou at the time - consistently reminds me of my screw-ups. And although it is a pain in the ass to be reminded, it keeps me on the straight and narrow.
Funnily, when I teach Org Com, I tell people it is not possible to separate personal life from working life – yet here I am practicing against what I preach. I guess I’ll keep combing the two ONLY in my personal narrative research. Live and learn and learn some more.
However, the Organizational Communication Audit class was a fantastic experience. I’d never taught a class like that – having students go into local nonprofits and perform internal communication audits (interviews and surveys, and focus groups) and report back to the organizations. For many of the students that was an excellent experience: putting their communication knowledge into practice. It was a great experience fro me as well. The class was so successful that I’ve built a similar course for ETSU called Organizational Communication and Consulting.
And so, to pull a clip from Supernatural, that’s “the road so far.”
Next up: From Mizzou to ETSU. Different campus. Different Challenges