There’s a First Time for Everything

I had never dropped a course after attending the first few classes, until this year.


There had been the “Introduction to Oceanography” course I eagerly registered for my first year at UT-Austin, fondly recalling my adolescent love of marine life and naive ambitions of studying marine biology. It was a moment of shameful deja vu when I acquired the textbook a few days prior to the beginning of the term, cracked it open, and stared with a tight chest at all of the graphs and equations and complicated looking charts before remembering that I had discovered, years earlier, that I was not and never would be a scientist, no matter how into sharks I had been as a 9-year-old.


This term it was “Comic Alternatives”, a course I had signed up for after snagging my first choice “Medieval Death” and failing to get registered in time for my second choice, “19th Century Transatlantic Literature.” The description sounded promising enough, and gave me the impression that the course would be a look at comedy the roots of comedy as a genre and the means by which comedy explores power dynamics in interpersonal and socio-political contexts. It sounded like just the type of fuzzy-headed liberal arts ballyhoo that I could get behind.


No such luck, however. I had ignored a few whispered, dire warnings that the Professor was a bit of a luddite, assuming them to a bit overblown. When I showed up to the first day, I sat with gritted teeth as a former head of the department (now returning-out-of-retirement-adjunct) pontificated at great length about what the course might be, what it definitely was not, and what would (probably) be expected of us. This was a man who clearly had some very strong opinions about the “youth” of today, as he muttered something about “laying off the phones” when a query about an obscure greek literary term was not met with an adequate explanation. I weighed my options for the remainder of the evening (it was my last chance to recover 3/4ths of my tuition), but I think that comment was the final nail in the coffin. I’m a grown-ass man who is paying a lot of money to take graduate courses and my phone was nowhere to be found.

Lord, deliver me from a future in which I feel my worth as a teacher can be measured in how inadequate I make my students feel, and make me the kind of old man who doesn’t bitterly weep for the lack of longform bluebook examinations in a 21st century graduate course. I still have unknowable amounts to learn for certain, but I expect, as all students should, to be met with good faith and treated with respect (so long as I prove I deserve it).


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