Thursday, May 5, 2016

A teaching story

Anyone who teaches becomes inured to lies, or at least most lies. Some are small and best left unexamined, unquestioned. Cars do break down. Some lies are larger and seem designed to appear true because of their very implausibility. Those lies too are best left unexamined, unquestioned. You can’t come to class because the snow hasn’t been cleared from the steps of your apartment building? Your uncle is having toe surgery this Friday afternoon, and the family wants to be together? Thanks for telling me. Your inventiveness sticks in my mind long after I’ve forgotten your name.

The worst lie a student ever told me involved steroids, needles, and a boyfriend who was HIV-positive. And my student said that she was likely infected. That was the explanation for her poor work in the class. I remember tears running down my face as she told me this story. I had lost a great friend to AIDS-related illnesses not long before. There was, of course, no way my student could have known that. And there was no way I could have known that I would discover, a semester or two later, that her story was a lie.

Nearly thirty years after the fact (or lack thereof), this story stays with me.

Related reading
All OCA teaching posts (Pinboard)

comments: 2

Geo-B said...

When I started teaching children's literature, I would have the students write a final paper on some issue in the literature, but I found a pretty big problem in inadequate referencing (I'm sure there's some term for that). I came up with an assignment in which the student interviews someone, 4 years old, or 40, or 90, asks what books he or she remembers from childhood, reads those books, writes about what issues they raise or how they reflect the times. One student last semester contacted an 80 year old man, arranged to interview him; meanwhile the man drags a ladder over to his attic to retrieve the books, falls off and succumbs. Therefore, the paper was late, a poignant, creative story full of gravity.

Michael Leddy said...

Quite a tale. The next eighty-year-old should be pretty careful around this jinx.