Having a teacher like Mr. Smith really prepared me for the bullshit I’d later encounter with college professors / TAs / other teachers.

I’ll never forget the first day of junior year Honors English: a man dressed all in black with crazy eyes stood by the door. Crazy eyes because he had them wide open as he stared at us as we entered the class. We were sitting down talking about our summers and all that, comparing class schedules and waiting for the teacher to get things started, but he just stared at us all.

Finally everyone got quiet because we didn’t understand why he was giving us the crazy eyes and we were kind of creeped out by his uninterrupted, piercing, blue-eyed gaze; he probably never blinked. Then once we got quiet, this scary man gets all loud reading us this poem instead of going over the syllabus like a normal teacher.

As the semester went on I was less creeped out by him and he went from creeper status to being on my hater list, which isn’t a place people want to be. He would make us do all this work and then tell us he wouldn’t read everything and that not everything would be worth points. When he did grade our work, his methods for grading seemed unsound and full of flamboyant foolishness—fieldtrips to nowhere inside the building, peeling oranges in class, forming a “V” and “flying” like geese on the football field. He had certain times things were due and if it was a millisecond late, he’d be like “blah, blah, blah. I’m a hater I won’t accept this; no points for you [stares hard and meanly].”

You can’t do stuff like that to honors kids, Mr. Smith. We’re serious about our points and getting good grades. Jacking an honors kid’s points is like stealing a baby’s bottle.

The worst was when he had a BF—bitch fit, like in White Chicks—about us not doing our work. He was all mad for about two weeks and we didn’t do anything but hear him complain and scold and I was thinking, “Man, this fool is crazy.” I had never gotten a B in English in my entire life, and I let him know it. I kept track of the points his antics robbed me of—about 50—and I’m pretty sure I was the only one to let him have a piece of my mind.

He was surprised to see me. He always told students if they wanted to talk about grades or anything to come after school, knowing they probably wouldn’t show up, but there I was.

“Mr. Smith, I need to talk to you about my points.”

“What about them?”

“I feel like you’re taking them without good reason and it’s ruining my grade.”

“Well, what happened? Can you name a specific time you felt like I took your points?”

“Yeah! Today! I just needed to print my paper—”

“Oh, that’s right! I don’t accept late work!”

“It wouldn’t have been late if you would’ve let me print it!”

“I don’t print students’ papers. Part of it being on time is having it printed before you arrive to class.”

I stared at him and pictured myself choking him. He went on to talk about how school wasn’t about points, making it clear he’d always be a hater. Our discussion didn’t last long.

The next day—the very next day—this guy gets up in front of the class and starts talking about how points aren’t important and how he used to be a point junkie and how we should work for the sake of working. My peers and I wanted to jump him, but since we aren’t a violent bunch we stayed in our seats.

* * *

Now I’m in college. Some of my professors have their PhD’s, and some are graduate students and they don’t know what the hell is going on. Some professors get all butt-hurt if you don’t refer to them as doctor; some get adamant about NOT being called “doctor.” They all grade differently, have stringent deadlines, and are usually vague on many points. They often go on tangents unrelated to the material, and some even make me buy textbooks they have written over and over to make new editions so the old ones are unusable for the course and they can make more money. A lot of the eccentric ones get all offended if you don’t do the assignments or readings. I often find myself thinking, “That’s some shit Mr. Smith would’ve done.”

Ajane’ Burnley is a junior at Western Washington University. Her 20th birthday was on Easter this year and she bought a yellow North Face vest. She knows sleeping in class is a waste of tuition but sometimes the Econ professor talks too much. Writing is one of the things she enjoys most, and she should make more time to write that science fiction novel. It features a young Black female heroine, because she says so.



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  1. October 8, 2012

    I disliked arguing about points with students so much I stopped giving them. A well-defined and understood set of criteria turns the talk back to the understanding not what the response is worth. Talking with students after a test shouldn’t feel like Pawn Stars. It should feel all Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson. Here is my blogging on the topic. love the debate though!

  2. October 8, 2012

    “…a man dressed all in black with crazy eyes stood by the door. Crazy eyes because he had them wide open as he stared at us as we entered the class.”

    Magical Teacher smashed into Johnny Cash smashed into heartthrob. Love those crazy eyes.

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