Tuesday, October 25, 2011

I Wanna Rock

A couple of weeks ago, as I was gathering my things at the end of my class that I teach, I noticed that one of my students was hanging back. I could tell he wanted to talk to me about something, but that he wanted his peers to not be around while he said what he had to say. Realizing this, I made an effort to drag out my own packing up process so as to ensure that he and I were alone after everyone else had left.

Once we were alone he came up to me and said, "Sam, can I ask you a question? It doesn't have anything to do with class or anything though."

Naturally I responded that of course, he could ask me anything.

He replied, "You want to be a professor someday right?"

I smiled and nodded affirmatively saying, "That's right."

He then asked, "What made you want to study English? I've never liked English before -- I hated my high school English classes -- but I've loved this class so far, and I've been thinking more and more that maybe I'd like to study English. So I thought I'd ask your advice."

He didn't have class to go to, so we sat down in a couple of desks and he told me how he came out of high school thinking he wanted to be a doctor but was never 100% sold on that idea. In short, he was thinking a lot about his future and wasn't coming up with much except for the fact that he loved my class. So I told him my story of how I came to study English and, more importantly, how I came to decide that I want to be a professor someday. (It's a great story, maybe I'll write here about it some time.) He asked me a few questions about the kinds of things English majors study and he asked what kinds of jobs are available for those with English degrees and so on.

Once I'd answered all his questions as well as I could he sat there quietly for a moment looking at his hands. Then he looked up and asked one more question: "Sam, what do you think I should do?"

I just smiled.

The first thing that popped into my head was Mr. Cox, my high school yearbook teacher, raising his fist into the air and yelling to our class, "WHAT DO YOU WANNA DO WITH YOUR LIFE?" before playing Twisted Sister's "I Wanna Rock" so loud that the school newspaper advisor from down the hall came into our classroom, gave Mr. Cox a withering glare and told us to turn it down.

The situation also kind of reminded me of that scene in Joe Vs. the Volcano where Joe asks Marshall the limo driver what kind of clothes to buy and Marshall says:

"Clothes make the man. I believe that. You say to me you want to go shopping, you want to buy clothes, but you don't know what kind. You leave that hanging in the air, like I'm going to fill in the blank, that to me is like asking me who you are, and I don't know who you are, I don't want to know. It's taken me my whole life to find out who I am, and I'm tired now, you hear what I'm saying? "

A part of me wanted to be that blunt with my student. I wanted to say that he had to figure out who he was and once he did that he could answer that question for himself and good luck, let me know how it goes. But I didn't. I just smiled and said, "that's the question, isn't it?"

I told him not to worry about it too much because everyone goes through these kinds of existential crises. Somehow we all seem to make it through them alright and, for the most part, tend to find some niche where we really do fit. Naturally I talked up the English program because he expressed interest in it, but I told him that ultimately he had to decide for himself what was right for him.

I knew I wasn't telling him anything he didn't already know, but sometimes we just have to have someone tell us the things that we already know before we actually believe them, right?

He nodded, grabbed his bag and thanked me for my time. As he was leaving he told me that my class is his favorite. I thanked him and probably blushed.

Aside from being flattered that mine was his favorite class and that he would turn to me for advice on what he should do with his life, this experience proved to be just what I needed. It was nice to have an opportunity to explain verbally why I'm doing what I'm doing and why I've chosen this path for my life. There have been times this semester when school has gotten me down and I've wondered if this really is what I want to do or if it really is what should be doing. Talking about it with my student reminded me that I need to "cast not away therefore [my] confidence" because this is where I am, in fact, supposed to be.


  1. You know what? I believe that. I believe you were meant to be in English. It suits you perfectly.

    Do you remember that time I helped you write a poem for your history class? How old were you then? Not old. Or the year you gave us stories you had written for Christmas presents? You've had an aptitude for language for as long as I've known you.

    I kind of wish I could take your class.

    P.S. Yes, I am reading The Road by McCarthy. I am not too far in yet--maybe a quarter of the way-- but it is gripping and I think the language is beautiful. I'll let you know what I think when I'm done.

  2. Jill I totally remember that poem. It was when I was in 8th grade. I remember I was so proud of it that I memorized it and would recite it to myself as I was waiting to fall asleep in my bed. I remember thinking how cool it was that you were such a great poet. Truth is, that was probably more your work than mine. :]

  3. i like this post, sam! so true - "what should i do?" is the hardest question to answer. and congrats for being your student's favorite class. i'll have to come and sit in on one of your classes sometimes.

  4. Way to go. I'm sure it had something to do with your ability to bring the topic of English to the common man. See? You're born to be a professor.

  5. That's completely awesome, Sammy. How wonderful that you contributed to one of the influential conversations in this kid's life. I remember you talking about how you came to choose English and how important that professor was to you, so it only fits that you are one of those teachers as well.

    I always think of Mary Oliver's poem "The Summer Day" when I think about life and what I'm supposed to do with it. Life seems to be on your side when you feel like you're exactly where God wants you to be. (: