“First of all, are you okay?”
Back in September, I started off the school year on the wrong foot. Actually, to push the tired foot analogy a little further, I was dragging my feet, tripping over shoelaces and falling down. Probably in a puddle. Of mud. For simplicity’s sake, I had a difficult August, and when September hit, I suffered from severe insomnia and completely lacked an appetite. Some days, I seriously felt like Amelie in this particular scene (I know, boo hoo, c’est la vie!).
The worst moment at school this year came when I entered a class sharply at 2 pm and realized, the class began at 1 pm. The night before was a sob story not in need of retelling and I had dragged myself to an afternoon class without any sleep. Unbeknownst to me, when I burst through the closed door announcing my late arrival, I had interrupted my professor who was calmly ending what sounded like a very important, non-sob story. My heart sank. As I made my way to an empty seat, I could see from the corner of my eyes, other people looking at me from the corners of their eyes. Two minutes later, our class was dismissed for a break.
The co-professor teaching the course walked up to me.
“First of all,” she said, searching my face, “Are you okay?”
Although it may sound unremarkable, that is probably the kindest thing a professor has ever said to me. Me as in Erin the human, not me as in Erin the student. How often have you seen a professor ask latecomers if they are actually okay? In fact, I’ve had the unfortunate experience of seeing professors stop mid-sentence and, with a look of repulsion, refuse to speak until a latecomer squeezes his or her way to the one empty seat in the most remote location of classroom to sheepishly sit down. I think such reactions are more appropriate for someone who decides to dance on top of a coffin at a televised eulogy for a statesman but I find it presumptuous to make someone feel uncomfortable or bad for wanting to attend a lecture, even if they weren’t able to make it on time. And who knows what prevented them from being there? We all have imaginations. But for some reason, we want to imagine the worst.
This is not an argument or excuse for tardiness. Nothing is worse than the same students rolling in class after class, late. Punctuality is important. Yet I can’t help but feel disenchanted when I see in the Arts and Humanities, a lack of humanity in the classroom or at least, the absence of compassion and empathy, not only between students and professors but also between students and other students.
I am grateful for the one professor who asked me if I was simply okay. Because even though I pretended I was, I wasn’t. I think the fact that she chose to recognize me as person with feelings, instead of just count me as an extra head in attendance, made a big difference. U of T students often complain about feeling like a number and I can completely understand this complaint of being just another face in the crowd. I literally felt like a zero (nothing) in one class this year when the professor asked students to write their names beside numbers. We were told that in order to help her remember who we were, to introduce ourselves by saying, “Erin, number 31” before we made a comment.
As students, let’s reject these impersonal models of knowing one another. I dare you to ask, “how are you?” to the person you sit beside next semester. You never know what he or she might actually say.
Now that 2011 is coming to an end, I’m looking forward to starting the new year off on the right foot and hitting the ground running. Most likely in a pair of red shoes.
I also wonder if you feel like you were able to get to know me a little more. My hope for 2012 is that I get to know you, anonymous reader in the blogosphere, a little more, too. So please, introduce yourself, comment or just say hi. Because I really do wonder how you are feeling today.