(Written December 2010)
Every semester, the night before final exams begin, we host a series of ‘help classes’ for the EN 101 students drowning in principle parts, parts of speech, diagramming, clauses, and the very tricky pronoun antecedent agreement—-the help class over which I was presiding.
He sat there, in the back of my classroom, handsome and callow. It was clear that he had time to waste—I did not. With a mug of hot chocolate waiting in my office, a stack of papers, and an email to write to a dear friend, not to mention the other gajabillion things I have to do before I leave on Friday for Christmas break, I wasn’t about to let him waste my precious time by disrupting the help class. In the middle of a sentence, I stopped talking. The silence boomed like a megaphone through the room. When he looked up at me, disinterest and cockiness filled his eyes--the look of a guy used to having women beg for his attention rather than demand it, as I was at that moment. And from the way his face turned into a half sneer, I could tell he didn’t like the change in circumstances.
I put a hand on my hip and raised my eyebrows. “You know the only thing worse than EN 101 the first time?”
He stared at me with contempt, opening his mouth to give a smart reply.
Before the words left his mouth, I smiled and answered, “EN 101 the second time.” I winked at him. “Little guy, you’re just too good lookin’ not to be smart enough to pass this exam tomorrow. Better pay attention. You want to tell me what the answer is to this sentence?” I tapped the transparency with my pencil. The sentence read: None of the girls remembered to bring (her/their) lunch.
He took one glance at it before crossing his arms and jutting his chin up toward the screen. “The right answer isn’t even up there. The answer should be ‘it’. Since None is a neutral pronoun.”
I stared at him for a moment, hoping that my gaze might somehow generate the motivation for him to take the leap over the brink of boyhood to manhood sometime soon—-before he and the blonde noodle babe he had been flirting with the whole time managed to reproduce.
I considered my response for five seconds, never taking my gaze from him. “Well, then since you’re obviously smarter than my transparencies, I’ll give you an option: you can either stay in here and pay attention trying to glean what little my teaching experience might be able to proffer you. Or you and it,” I nodded to his lady admirer, “can leave now, fail the class tomorrow, and take it again next semester together.”
He looked indignantly around at the other students in the class, as if looking for a posse to rise against the mini English instructor at the front. They all sunk a little deeper in their chairs, as if making sure none of them even looked willing to cause an uprising. (I think little teachers scare them.)
Finally, he crossed his arms a little tighter, slunk down until his chin almost touched the desk top, and didn’t say another word.
It was my turn to smirk. Without losing stride, I flipped the overhead light back on and said, “Now, where were we?”