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Of Things Not Said

The strangest, sweetest thing happened in class today. I’m still smiling about it.

We are five weeks in and, thus, it is time for the first round of individual presentations. Each student in each of my business communications classes needs to stand up and make a short presentation to the class. They have had a couple of weeks to prepare and ~ bonus ~ they are recorded on DVD. They keep the DVD for their own self-evaluation, which forms part of their grade for this assignment.

Needless to say, students are nervous about this. Many have no experience presenting and the camera gives them an extra jolt of nervousness. Half the battle is just getting them to show up and do it.  At this stage, they need lots of positive reinforcement and lightheartedness during the class itself, just to get through it. Between presentations, I try to crack jokes, hum, sing, whistle … sometimes I make them stand up and stretch or make faces at each other to help break the tension.

One of the things I’m enjoying about my two classes early in the week is that they have bonded with each other, and, to an extent, with me. I often experience this and sometimes it holds for the whole 14 weeks. Sometimes, around 10 weeks, we all get exhausted and just pull ourselves through the last month feeling a little less bonded. But, right now, there is really good energy in these two classes. Students are very supportive of each other. The jury is still out on the Friday class … but I have high hopes that I’ll get more of a sense of them later this week.

Anyway … today. We were mid-way through the presentations and an affable, usually charming young man gets up to present. He is academically undisciplined, having missed two out of the four previous classes. But he is bright, funny and he is doing his best and, thus, is well-liked by his peers. His comic bravado starts to melt a bit as he gets up in front of the class and I turn on the camera.

Sometimes, when people get nervous, they use language that they would not otherwise use. During his presentation, my young friend seemed to develop “presentation Tourette‘s”, swearing under his breath several times. He also used the following phrases:

“I didn’t know shit about … ”

“Maybe you think it is too girly for you …”

I was trying not to smile too much as I wrote my notes, tried to look at him with my best encouraging-active-listening face, and monitored the camera. His classmates were pulling for him, and you could almost hear the faint groans each time he uttered something he shouldn’t.

Then … the pièce de résistance.

“I used to think that going out clubbing at night was just so … gay.”

Uniformly, and with almost one fluid gesture, every student who was sitting in front of me (about eight of them) slowly turned to look at me for my reaction to this. I sensed several sharp intakes of breath to my left and right. Happily, our young friend at the front of the room was so wound up in his nervousness that he didn’t notice this and he carried on, awkwardly barreling towards his conclusion. I sat, still trying not to smile or react in any way which, admittedly, was difficult under the circumstances.

Until this moment, I had no idea I was “out” to this group. I still really wasn’t 100% sure how to interpret all this until after class wrapped up. There is lots to do at the end of these classes – packing up the camera and tripod, answering individual student questions, organizing the written materials submitted. I had indicated to this young man that I needed to speak with him. However, several other students also needed information, or reassurance, from me so he was left to his own devices. As I was dealing with the bits and pieces of post-class wrap up, I was keeping an eye on him across the room. About six of his classmates surrounded him, speaking in hushed tones. As soon as I was free, he came over and said, “I am so sorry, Miss. I really deeply apologize.” I hadn’t even said anything to him yet.

I find this so exhilarating.

See … I am so very totally completely “out” in every other aspect of my life that has meaning – except for the classroom.  I *do* wear a tiny rainbow earring on the off chance that any student struggling with LGBTQ or related issues will see me as someone they can come to if they need to. Our school is so pathetically weak in providing such support. If I were teaching creative writing, or theatre, or music or any creative discipline, I’d be much more inclined to be more out and open. I remember my mentor/theatre prof saying that he needed to be “out” when he taught acting, directing and writing. He believed that in the creative arts, we use ourselves, our own lives and perspectives, as the raw material of our work, and I believe this to be true also. However, in the environment in which I teach, it feels inappropriate. There is a high probability that this information might unnecessarily distract from the learning objectives we are pursuing. It just isn’t relevant.

Or, so I’ve always thought. I figured the rainbow rings on this tiny earring would have meaning only to those who know the code. It has simply not occurred to me that the students might ALREADY KNOW and, further, NOT CARE.

As far as my response to someone using “gay” to mean “stupid” or “not cool” or what have you … of course, that is inappropriate and hurtful. I made this clear to our young friend, although he already knew I was going to call him on all this. I’ve given him a chance for a do-over next week, and that stunned him a bit. I can’t say for sure whether he is truly homophobic, or just careless. I suspect the latter. I think no one has ever called him on his use of this word, just like we don’t call each other on using words like spaz or retard or son-of-a-bitch.  Even if he is dyed-in-the-wool homophobic, it remains my job to teach him how to present his ideas more clearly and concisely. It is not my job to grade him on his value system.

What I’m most impressed with are the students in this class and, for all I know, many classes before. My cultural assumptions about THEIR homophobia have been revealed. I’m still not prepared to be any more overt on this topic as I still don’t see it as relevant. But, somehow, I feel ever so slightly more comfortable about walking into class after today. And that makes me smile.

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4 comments to “Of Things Not Said”

  1. great post 😉

  2. Really enjoyed these insights!

  3. There *could* have been another clue as to your orientation…recently? 😉

  4. Update …. sadly, this young man totally dropped out of sight. Dropped my course, and most of his others, I think. I hope he gets it together and gives college another go. Perhaps he just wasn’t ready.

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