I taught public speaking at Missouri State University for five years, which is a way of saying I tortured hundreds of students for 1825 days. Which makes me sound like a Third World dictator that should be taken out by the United States.
I saw countless students squirm like slices of bacon in a sizzling skillet up there at that podium, and I heard approximately 8 million speeches about Lance Armstrong and Oprah Winfrey. Did you know that Lance Armstrong survived testicular cancer? I do. Boy do I know that.
I have a recurring dream, and it affects me the same every time. It’s the middle of the semester, and I have only assigned one speech. The students still have three more to go, and they are going to kill me for cramming so much work into the latter half of the semester. They are going to serve my head on a platter, John the Baptist-style.
What’s more, I have completely failed to carry out my department’s requirements to assign daily writings and quizzes in order to generate the equivalent of an attendance reward. I tell my class, “Lots of people have been missing out lately, so I am going to start assigning daily writings now in order to reward those of you who are here.” It is sort of true. It sort of masks the fear I feel, which is icy.
In last night’s dream, however, I dreamed that my former coworker and forever friend Bryan Brown informed me that someone had been trying to break into his house. He had a camera set up in his living room, and he had seen footage of a burly intruder tromping around in the mud behind his house, peering in through the sliding-glass door on the back of his house, and attempting to open it. He had not informed his wife Angela about this business, and his daughter Lily was in dire need of a diaper change. Lily does not wear diapers anymore (I hope). She is all grown up now, and she is way smarter than her dad.
When Bryan and I were teaching (in real life), our coworker Steve once had a student who gave a speech about a very prominent figure: Harris Toddle. Say that one out loud, folks. The student apparently wrote this on the board, and it was also in his outline.
In another bizarre turn, I once had a student who depicted the number of rapes on campus with a pie chart. It looked like this:
Which basically made it look like rape on campus was no big deal at all. Do you see why I have nightmares? Of course, in addition to being horrible, this pie chart is also semantically ambiguous. There is an implication that there are more rapes off-campus that are not included here. Perhaps that number would boost the total percentage of raped students to 0.002%? Boy, this was persuasive stuff, I tell you.
When I assigned grades that reflected the ineptitude of such visual aids, my students complained, saying things like, “But I worked real hard on that. I haven’t slept in weeks because I was working on that visual aid.” I regret to inform you, my dear student, that you spent weeks of your life making something that even a glue-huffing clown would find horrifying.
Do you see why I have nightmares?
In my dream last night, my friend Bryan and I were planning on making some sort of Indian dish – my wife Becki wanted me to pick up the ingredients at the mall, of course. Because the mall is where you shop for Indian foods and spices. And anyway, after shopping I returned to class to listen to more speeches, and I had a whole plastic bag filled with these exotic Indian spices. Without warning, the bottom of the bag broke and a pile of Indian spices landed on the foot of the student who was sitting behind me. I explained to her that these spices were delicious, and that she should try them.
Every time I dream about my failings as a teacher, I think “I’ve done it again. I’ve failed again. My students despise me, and rightly so. I am a horrible teacher,” and then I wake up and realize it was all a nightmare. I loved teaching public speaking for the most part, and I loved my students. Many of them had horrible visual aids though. And many of them waxed poetic about Lance Armstrong’s wayward testicles. Many of them told me that Oprah Winfrey had her own TV show, and I believed them. I still do.