Let me back up and provide some context. My university career spanned seven years. The first five, I majored in political science and minored in drama --- which, in retrospect, is so richly ironic I should have stayed with it, although the drama minor was actually in technical theatre, not acting. But partway through, I changed my minor to history (which may or may not have been more relevant to political science), and that’s why my BA took five years instead of four. Why change the minor, you ask? Because my drama professors were really not good at allowing students to take charge as their skill levels matured, and by third year, when I realized I was still doing the same stupid grunt tasks I’d done in first year, I decided I didn’t need that, and voted with my feet. Which, also retrospectively, was not the best course of action… but most of us at 21 are not as sure of ourselves and willing to speak out about injustice as we are with several additional decades of life experience under our belts. We’re also speaking of a society lo, almost 50 years ago, when deference to authority was far more ingrained than these chaotic times we live in today, alas.
(Actually, apart from the appalling lack of a steady girlfriend in my life at that point, I do tend to look fondly back on my university years as a pretty idyllic time. I could largely arrange my own academic schedule --- a biggie for someone who hates rising early in the morning: I was careful never to schedule a class before 10. And I swiftly perfected the technique of knocking out term papers in a day or so, once I’d done the reading/research; and I had a part-time job at the university theatre --- actually doing the technical theatre I’d wanted to do in drama --- which kept me in beer money. The weird thing about university is it pretty much seemed to consist of formally acknowledging stuff I already knew. It also taught me that university professors, by and large, weren’t teachers, just [mostly] bright people in very narrow fields of specialization who would much rather be researching than dealing with a bunch of wet-behind-the-ears undergraduates, thanks very much. Ah, academe.)
Anyway. Back to that teaching revelation. I took public transit to university… for seven looooong years, as mentioned. The final two years were spent getting my Bachelor of Education. The first day of that program, I was pretty pumped: I was going to learn to be a teacher! Although there was one slight fly in the ointment.
Remember I said I could largely arrange my academic schedule? Well, sometimes, the university liked to play practical jokes on my carefully ordered little world. One was called ‘cancelling-a-section-and-folding-it-into-another.’ Usually, I’d discover this the first day of classes… but after a couple of times, I was too smart for them, going up the day before to check class locations. Sure enough, they’d done it with my first education class. A methods class, if you please --- a course designed to deal with the actual nuts and bolts of teaching. (Completely useless course, as it turned out… but I couldn’t know that then.) It wasn’t at 10 anymore; it was scheduled for the middle of the night AKA 8 AM. The horror! Not only did it mean rising at an ungodly hour, it also meant taking transit during the height of high school student rush hour. I’d had experience with high school students in unstructured situations like buses. And these kids were, as my very English mother succinctly observed once, a lot of hooligans. So my enthusiasm that first morning was, shall we say, a little tempered.
And my fears were realized when the bus pulled up. It was jammed. With high school kids. Hardly any room to get on the bus. What added insult to injury was most of the jam was at the front. There was space towards the back. But did these hormonal adolescents see that and act? Nope. They continued standing in the jam at the front. I gritted my teeth, wedged myself in on the bus front steps, and off we went. I knew we’d be in trouble at the next stop.
And we were. A little old lady waited to board. Only there was no possible way she could. I looked to the bus driver for leadership. He glanced around, cast a weary, defeated eye on the assembled multitude, and said spiritlessly, “Move back, please.”
No one moved. Including me, but that’s because I couldn’t. He waited a beat, then said it again, sounding rather like a sheep pleading with wolves. “Move back, please.”
Nothing. Not a flicker of acknowledgement from any of them. The old lady still waited curbside. The universe stood still. And I would not make that first class on time. What to do?
Then it happened. Now, I’ve never regarded myself as a particularly angry, impatient, or imposing person. But something welled up from deep within me, surged to the surface like a volcanic eruption.
I. Was. Enraged. At. This. Stupidity.
You know how writers sometimes describe a character’s eyes ‘blazing?’ 38 years later, I can state with utter certainty it’s not just another cliché. I glanced wildly around and quite spontaneously bellowed, “WELL, GODDAMMIT, MOVE BACK!”
It was a Moses-and-the-Red-Sea moment… they parted and moved. With alacrity. The little old lady boarded, and off we went. When it momentarily appeared no one would offer her a seat… I glared menacingly at one long-haired, gangling youth. Didn’t have to say a word. He hastily stood, and she sat.
Hmm, I reflected thoughtfully. My first lesson in classroom management. No, no… not ‘swear at them,’ ‘shout at them,’ or anything like that. It was simply --- well, remember Han Solo, that erudite philosopher of Star Wars fame and his take on leadership, decision-making and such? What he says to Leia in The Empire Strikes Back, when they realize they’re inside a giant creature’s gut and need to get the hell out of there? Immediately? And she questions the wisdom of his decision?
Yep. Sometimes, you don’t have the luxury of leisurely sitting and discussing things in committee. Or, as Bob Heinlein said, “when the roof leaks, you don’t appoint a committee to study the leak. You fix the leak.”
That particular leak was fixed. And lo, it was good.