Choices As Consequences

A not-so-random slice of life in the day of one educator might look somewhat like this:

Her husband makes her laugh without even trying. An actual conversation at the breakfast table:

Are you looking?

Yes, Love.

You give me the eyes that I love. They say, “off with your head”. Instantly, my head rolls to the floor, smiles, says, “thank you”.

Are there marriages worse than ours? He continues.

No, Love. They both begin laughing uncontrollably.

She runs out of gas as she pulls into a parking lot to pay a disconnected cell phone bill, lodges a sign in the drivers window: GONE FOR GAS. She goes from door to door along the strip mall plaza, stopping a few motorists between doors, to ask if anyone has a container she can borrow to bring gasoline back to her car. The Indian at the Hookah store, interrupts his call to come outside to see if the owner of the store next door is in yet. He has a gas can. He’s not in yet so they part company and she enters the Taco shop, hoping against hope that she can depend on the machismo of Latinos to come to her rescue. Not. She returns to the parking lot and heads toward Wal-Mart, certain to find the driver of the CAT bus. The Indian finds her, flags her over. He empties the remaining ounces of wiper fluid into a small juice bottle and tells her she can have and rinse the large one at the Chevron on the corner.

Leave it outside. They won’t let you fill it if they know you’re going to use it for gas.

Still clueless, she asks, how much will this hold?

A gallon will be enough, he responds gallantly, not rolling his eyes at the obvious limits of the gallon container he has provided.

She leaves his store without thunking her head, chuckling to herself, at the day “perfect for running out of gas”.

She strolls up the thoroughfare having rinsed the jug in Wal-Mart, wondering if she cares if she is seen by colleagues or students or not. Strategizing, she twists the cap far enough so all she will have to do is lift it to insert the pump’s nozzle and removes a debit card whose pin she  has committed to memory from the small pocket inside her handbag and drops it into her right coat pocket. She weighs her options. Should she approach the pump from in front of or behind McDonald’s? Will there be a truck at one pump to block her from view at another opposite? Is that adrenaline priming for fight or flight should anyone challenge her intentions or actions if caught in the middle of dispensing gas?

Someone on a moto is just pulling off as she gets to the gas station driveway. Otherwise, the pumps are abandoned. Not wanting to call attention to herself, she resists the temptation to run toward the cyclist and explain her situation, knowing that opening her mouth will dislodge the panic hidden there, so she maintains her pace, and decides she will attempt what she has come to do and, like Esther, prepare for the worst. Amazingly, all goes off without a hitch. She walks back along the road, stopping along the low wall to return the debit card to its safer place inside the handbag. Reaching her vehicle, she sizes up the opening to her gas tank, its angle and the mouth of the jug with the gasoline in it. It does not look like a good match but it is all she has so she takes her jacket off and attempts to position herself at an angle to the sun with the best view of the opening, prays, pours. To her faithful glee precious little spills. She caps the now empty jug and rests it on the floor of the passenger seat. The engine turns over so she reverses and pulls into the closest parking space, relieved to no longer be blocking three; enters the store, waits in line to pay her phone bill and leaves with a promise of restored service within minutes. The slight hiccup she had while being attended has subsided. She is not half an hour late for class but half an hour early.

A student is attempting to decipher her office hours as she enters the suite of offices that houses hers. She greets him. They enter. She boots up her computer as they exchange pleasantries. She mentions that she has noted his many missing assignments and asks if he has a plan for completing them noting as well that the last day to withdraw passed some 17 days ago. He says more than time it’s confidence he lacks. She says, borrow mine. I have every confidence in you and your ability to do the work. He agrees that the work is easy, for the most part. It’s just that he feels like he’s in a class all by himself (she affirms that he is) since when he goes to post an assignment there’s usually only one other student posting. I’ve never witnessed such a phenomenon in 20 years of teaching, she says. Me either, in all my years of school, he shakes his head. They agree that he will return, as much before 3 p.m. as possible, with his plan for completing specific assignments at specific dates and times mapped out on a calendar that she will be able to photocopy. Noting that they are late, they exit to the classroom down the hall only to discover that the computer there is not working and the team that is presenting needs it in order to project their slideshow and grammar video.

She returns to her office for dry-erase markers and calls the Help Desk for an intervention, pausing at a colleague’s door to announce that she is having a faculty crisis. Her colleague deftly, if unwittingly, reminds her that her students are not more important than his and asks if he can chat with her in 10 minutes. She agrees knowing she will be well on her way to the next crisis in the classroom by that time.

The crisis? She short-circuited when, after asking how students who could not discipline themselves in the small things like getting to class on time, completing assignments, and not bringing food and drink with them, one student answered, after licking her fingers sticky with whatever she’d been picking out of her sandwich, that her laptop had been broken for the past two weeks and that she hadn’t used the computer lab because she hasn’t been on campus. She had no response for that, nor would she for that matter have a response for anything else for the next period of time. That she could tell this was the case short-circuited her.

Returning to class with a guarantee that help would be soon on the way, she set about responding to the freewriting topic of the day, writing a sentence. The 20 or so words that came immediately to mind with the minutes remaining in the five the team had set aside for this portion of their presentation were as follows:

Are these students writing a life sentence any more restrictive for themselves than the oppression has already created for them?

When parts of the presentation allowed, she continued writing.

If I don’t police them, they don’t tow the line. If I police them, I create the marshal state I abhor. If they don’t toe the line the consequences increase. What must be done differently? Perhaps I can skip teaching 098 for a semester or more.

It was a perfect day to run out of gas. I had the right shoes on. The desert sky was mercifully cloudy and the November temperatures unseasonably warm.

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