Teaching In Increments*


*Disclaimer: due to the coronavirus, and in support of social distancing, and against the numerous false misleading claims and actions propagated by their insane leader and members of the republican party. I want to make it perfectly clear that these “events” happened years ago and in no way am I suggesting to disregard the safety and health of those around me by insinuating that I was teaching in person and in real life.


My day consists of saying: “this is a run-on sentence, an unneeded comma, capitalize proper nouns, common nouns need not be capitalized, stay in tense, has vs have, that vs which, this is a comma slice, your modifier is dangling, subject-verb agreement, please stop abusing your thesaurus, semicolons aren’t commas, possessive nouns need apostrophes, so do most contractions, use punctuation with quotation marks, period with abbreviations, make pronouns and antecedents agree, this is a sentence fragment, this is a sentence fragment, this is a sentence fragment, maintain consistent verb tense, use a comma before a coordination conjunction joining independent clauses, this is a wordy sentence: avoid unnecessary repetition of words, and cut empty or inflated phrases, use spell check, use spell check, use spell check, proofread your work…” And none of them seem to be listening.

Annoying Student: “how am I doing?”
Me: “meaning?”
AS: “am I passing?”
Me: “how do you feel you’re doing?”
AS: “don’t know, its why I’m asking.”
Me: “you’ve done the work, submitted all the assignments?”
AS: “missed a few.”
Me: “what’s a few?”
AS: “four or five, maybe six.”
Me: “so that’s at least 250 off the minimum 1000 points needed to graduate.”
AS: “man, that’s totally harsh.”
Me: “what is?”
AS: “the way you doing me like that.”
Me: “what’d I do?”
AS: “took those points away.”
Me: “I didn’t take away any points.”
AS: “you just said you did.”
Me: “you didn’t do the work.”
AS: “so I don’t get the points?”
Me: yeah, that’s how it works.”
AS: “totally harsh, man.”

Annoying Student #2: “What can you say that’ll make my writing better?”
Me: “nothing I haven’t already commented on in your work. Which you seem to have ignored.”
AS#2: “surely, there’s more? Fast track instructional procedural information, unsystematic definitions, the discourse of analysis, cultural preconceptions?”
Me: “unsystematic? …what exactly are you asking?”
AS#2: “how do I achieve an A?”
Me: “so, like what’s the secret to writing a college essay?”
AS#2: “yes, absolutely. The formula.”
Me: “what do you think we’re doing in class?”
AS#2: “assignments.”
Me: “and they’re just sort of arbitrary, going in no real direction, serving no purpose other than to make you do work you find boring?”
AS#2: “yes, yes. It’s like make believe. I want to write real essays.”
Me: “but that’s different then what you asked. So what’s a real essay?”
AS#2: “you know, important stuff.”
Me: “ah yeah. Such as?”
AS#2: “I don’t know.”
Me: “you don’t know what you want to write about, or what’s important?”
AS#2: “just want an A in the class, and if you could, just tell me how.”
Me: “pay attention to my comments, revise you work using said comments, and push yourself trying harder with each assignment.”
AS#2: “I can’t believed you won’t help me.”

Last night, 2 English 101 classes back to back, three hours, me lecturing on MLA style: formatting and citing sources – and I only said fuck once. New personal best record, ever!

Creepy Student Lurking in Campus Bathroom: “hey, man.”
Me: “oh, no.”
Creepy Student’s Equally Creepy Friend: “hi.”
Me: “just once I’d like to piss in private.”
CSLiCB: “what’s your opinion of the classics?”
Me: “the classics?”
CSECF: “you know, Moby Dick, Heart of Darkness, Catcher in the Rye.”
Me: “um… why?”
CSLiCB: “don’t think we should have to read that crap.”
Me: “because?”
CSECF: “it’s old.”
Me: “what you wanna read instead?”
CSLiCB: “Odd Interlude.”
CSECF: “World War Z.”
Me: “what the fuck are those?”
CSLiCB: “Dean Koontz.”
CSECF: “Max Brooks.”
Me: “future classics, I’m sure.”
CSLiCB: “you don’t read Koontz?”
Me: “don’t think anyone reads Koontz, it’s more like connect the dots with a crayon.”
CSLiCB: “whad-a-ya mean.”
Me: “prefer to read someone that knows how to actually write.”
CSECF: “that’s cause you’re old.”
Me: “yeah, I’m a classic.”

Today’s back to school special: “fuck me, am I really going into the classroom again?”

Creepy Student in Classroom: “Dude, we need to talk.”
Me: “did you just call me dude?”
CSiC: “ok, ok, Mr. O, I’ve ishes.”
Me: “ishes? What’s an ishes?”
CSiC: “issues.”
Me: “sayin’ issues is too much, ya gotta go txt on me?”
CSiC: “whoa, Mr. O, all I wanna know, am I gonna pass this class?”
Me: “remember that thing we had last week called spring break?”
CSiC: “yeah?”
Me: “remember that announcement, make up missed assignments over the break?”
CSiC: “yeah?”
Me: “did you?”
CSiC: “no, I was on break.”
Me: “then you’ve answered your own question.”
CSiC: “I don’t get it.”
Me: “I know.”
CSiC: “so, am I gonna pass?”
Me: “think you’ve too many ishes.”
CSiC: “what’s that mean?”
Me: “hell if I know?”

Thug-Lite Student: “ain’t feelin’ assignments.”
Me: “ok, what about them you don’t like?”
T-LS: “they’all jus whack.”
Me: “yeah, got that. But is it the type of writing, essay format, subject matter?”
T-LS: “subjects be hella lame.”
Me: “alright, now we getting somewhere.”
T-LS: “stuff jus ain’t be no affectin’ on my life.”
Me: “you don’t think writing about the economy is relevant?”
T-LS: “hell no. Thas fo folks gots jobs, and houses.”
Me: “ahhh. So what’s your interests?”
T-LS: “wanna write ’bout ol’ school hardcore hip hop.”
Me: “like Public Enemy, NWA, Geto Boyz, Wu-Tang?”
T-LS: “nah, nah, nah… Nelly.”
Me: “say what?”
T-LS: “Nelly.”
Me: “what’s a Nelly?”
T-LS: “Nelly hella ol’ school.”
Me: “ah, no. No he’s not.”
T-LS: “he like, at least forty.”
Me: “whoa.”
T-LS: “see, thas-wha-Im-talkin-bout.
Me: “the answer’s no.”
T-LS: “wha-chu mean?”
Me: “no Nelly, no way.”
T-LS: “hows ’bout Chris Brown?”
Me: “how about you stick with economy, then maybe a three page paper on why you don’t have a job.”
T-LS: “always keepin’ a brutha down.”
Me: “Bob, you’re white kid from the valley, only down thing in your future is failing this class.”
T-LS: “but…”
Me: “just keepin’ it real, dude.”

He said, “dude, what kind of English teacher are you? All you do is swear.”
Me: “fuck you.”

Hotel Front Deskman: “what brings you to 29 Palms?”
Me: “teaching a workshop in Joshua Tree.”
HFD: “oh, photography?”
Me: “no, writing.”
HFD: “usually they’re photography.”
Me: “really? That’d be hard, I’m not a photographer.”
HFD: “well, yes. Just never heard of a writing workshop out there.”
Me: “maybe it’s never been done?”
HFD: “maybe? You a nature writer?”
Me: “ah, no.”
HFD: “history?”
Me: “memoir.”
HFD: “concerning?”
Me: “drug addicts and bank robberies.”
HFD: “you should fit in quite well out here.”

Annoying Student: “don’t think I’m gonna make it this semester.”
Me: “that makes two of us.”
AS: “no, mean I’m not going to be alive.”
Me: “really?”
AS: “been diagnosed with a terminal disease.”
Me: “sorry to hear that. What disease, if you don’t mind me asking?”
AS: “it’s complicated.”
Me: “well, none of them are exactly simple.”
AS: “rare blood disorder, genetic mutation, Y chromosomes, X factor…”
Me: “seriously? That sounds like the Hulk, or Wolverine.”
AS: “my brain hurts.”
Me: “ok. So, you’re telling me this, why?”
AS: “don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to do homework.”
Me: “ahhhh, ok.”
AS: “may have to be excused, last few weeks.”
Me: “like, during finals.”
AS: “unfortunately, it appears that way.”
Me: “well, don’t know what to tell you…”
AS: “isn’t there a hardship plea?”
Me: “this isn’t a court of law.”
AS: “what about, medical deferment?”
Me: “definitely need a written statement from your doctor.”
AS: “I’ve this.”
Me: “uh huh… your mom’s a doctor?”
AS: “well, no.”
Me: “don’t mean to be rude, but she misspelled your name.”
AS: “she’s illiterate.”
Me: “that would mean she couldn’t write at all.”
AS: “I’m dying here!”
Me: “yeah, and you’re killing me.”

Overly Stressed Student: “what if I can’t write a final paper?”
Me: “what do you mean?”
OSS: “might not be capable.”
Me: “in what way?”
OSS: “I’m overwhelmed, just don’t know…”
Me: “what’s overwhelming about it?”
OSS: “putting words on paper…”
Me: “what have you been doing all semester?”
OSS: “yeah, but those haven’t been ‘final’ papers.”
Me: “oh… so is it the ‘final’ aspect of it?”
OSS: “yeah, it’s so…”
Me: “final?”
OSS: “exactly!”
Me: “Ok, so let’s say you don’t hand in the final paper…”
OSS: “yeah?”
Me: “then you don’t pass, or get an incomplete, have to do it over…”
OSS: “um…”
Me: “then you’ve another semester dreading this exact same moment.”
OSS: “that would totally suck.”
Me: “just putting it in perspective.”
OSS: “maybe final’s not so bad.”
Me: “final says no more English 101.”
OSS: “final’s sounding pretty good.”
Me: “final is your friend.”
OSS: “ok, Mr. O’Neil, thanks.”
Me: “aren’t you glad we had this final moment?”

Nervous Student: “how many classes do we have left?”
Me: “today and then next Wednesday.”
NS: “so, two?”
Me: “ah, yeah.”
NS: “when’s the semester end?”
Me: “June 2nd.”
NS: “no class that week?”
Me: “2nd’s a Tuesday.”
NS: “so when’s my final paper due?”
Me: “June 2nd.”
NS: “and I can’t hand it in during class?”
Me: “you submit online.”
NS: “really?”
Me: “ah, like all the other assignments this semester?”
NS: “ok, so about those other assignments…”
Me: “yeah?”
NS: “what if I haven’t handed in some?”
Me: “what’s ‘some’?”
NS: “like, ah, most.”
Me: “try and give me a number that best describes ‘most’.”
NS: “none?”
Me: “really?”
NS: “I was sick, a lot.”
Me: “for four months?”

Academic Recruiter: “we’ve a position open that you’d be great for.”
Me: “really? That’s awesome.”
AR: “tenure track, assistant professor, specializing in nonfiction.”
Me: “ok, like I said, awesome.”
AR: “and the ability to teach in multiple delivery modes would be preferable.”
Me: “multiple delivery modes? What ‘mode’ do you mean, besides nonfiction?”
AR: “the emphasis is nonfiction with poetry as a secondary field.”
Me: “did you say poetry?”
AR: “you’d be facilitating one to two poetry classes each semester.”
Me: “um… not really sure I’m qualified for that…”
AR: “all part of the creative writing workshops and technique courses.”
Me: “uh huh, I understand. But that’s the problem.”
AR: “ah, in what way would that be a problem?”
Me: “couldn’t really tell a student whether their poem lacked technique.”
AR: “content is content, and the rules of grammar apply as well.”
Me: “really? Like don’t capitalize that word. Oh and here, leave out all punctuation?”
AR: “Mr. O’Neil, I’m not an educator, teaching writing isn’t my forte.”
Me: “exactly. And poetry isn’t my forte. It’s not even in my vocabulary.”
AR: “but you had a book that was published in France!”
Me: “um… yeah?”
AR: “French! It’s the language of amour. Poetry.”
Me: “you know I didn’t write it in French.”
AR: “no? Hoping you’d also takeover the French literature courses as well.”
Me: “don’t think we’re on the same page here.”
AR: “how about teaching Haikus? Three lines. How hard can that be?”
Me: “um… I’m hanging up now.”
Academic Recruiter: “no wait, hold on…”
Me: “seriously, I can’t teach poetry.”
AR: “ok, ok, how about fiction as the secondary field?”
Me: “well, yeah, I could work with fiction…”
AR: “post apocalyptic, dystopian, alternative history?”
Me: “speculative fiction?”
AR: “yes, I do believe that is the term used.”
Me: “um… how did you decide to recruit me?”
AR: “the department head reads your Facebook posts.”
Me: “ah… that’s it?”
AR: “think he’s on your twitter feed as well.”
Me: “what, no pinterest?”
AR: “pinterest? I’ll have to ask.”
Me: “I was joking. Don’t actually do pinterest.”
AR: “oh, ha ha. Ever known the beauty that is upstate New York?”
Me: “you mean like a Syracuse kind of beauty?”
AR: “actually, Fredonia.”
Me: “what’s a Fredonia?”
AR: “quaint little village on Lake Eerie.”
Me: “I don’t really do quaint…”
AR: “the Bills and the Braves both have training camps there.”
Me: “not even sure what that means.”
AR: “perfect locale for the outdoorsman.”
Me: “um… I’m not really big on nature.”
AR: “craving the big city? Buffalo’s an hour away.”
Me: “honored that you’d consider me, but…”
AR: “there’s a state of the arts Walmart for all your shopping needs…”
Me: “um… I’m definitely hanging up now.”

Never fails: every semester there’s a student who is an artist, or writer, or some beaming impressionable creative type that submits a drawing, or badly written short story, or a goddamn poem in lieu of a standard five paragraph research essay (which in truth is a format I abhor) and I have to crush their dreams of creative expression (well, at least in this class). “Dude, there’s nothing fun about the formal college essay!” And just when did this happen? Just when did I become the guardian of the standard college essay? Ugh. I’m working for the Man. No, I’m prostituting for the Man!

Yup. I’m a ho.

Of course if one of them ever handed in a really awesome bit of writing, I’d let it go, leaving them grossly ill prepared for writing a college level paper… But hey, who is really prepared for shit in this world?

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