Today I had the unique opportunity to return to college, six years after graduating, and interact with several of my former professors and advisers. To be honest, I see many of these people fairly often, because my husband works at the college and is also a student. So I see these people when I’m visiting my husband at work, or when we go to a school function. One of them goes to my church.
Still, today was surreal.
In January, my former professor Mrs. Gifford, who attends my church and lives two doors north of me, called me with a job opportunity. She invited me to work in the college’s writing lab. The job would pay fairly well and would involve helping students with their college writing assignments, particularly with proofreading.
Anyone with any knowledge of English mechanics who reads my blog on a regular basis is probably laughing right now. I admit to breaking the rules regularly. This is a blog, not a college paper. But I do know what’s correct, even if I do tend to occasionally split my infinitives.
Let me tell you, a person who graduated six years ago with an English degree, who was pregnant at graduation, and who has worked in a chiropractor’s office, two separate daycares, and her own home since that time, is likely to jump at the opportunity to actually use the knowledge that she obtained through blood, sweat, tears, and years of debt which still stretch into the unforeseeable future. (Note: that sentence would make me cry if someone brought it to me in the writing lab). So I took the job in the writing lab and all semester long I enjoyed my three days a week of relative peace and quiet, with no screaming children or runny noses, with only the joy of grammar requesting my attention. That and the internet. There was a lot of down time at that job.
Finals week came and went, and my job was done for the semester. So I thought, until Mrs. Gifford approached me at church and said that they wanted me to come in for a few days in June to help assess some writing that the students had done. Of course I said yes. I changed my schedule around a little at my regular job, where good grammar is even more optional than good table manners, and off I went.
Here’s what Mrs. Gifford actually told me about this job. I would get paid the same as or more than I made when I worked in the writing lab. I would get free meals. We would be evaluating essays that the sophomores wrote for a new assessment the school is implementing, but this is just the test year so these essays are really just a practice run. We would have a rubric to use when evaluating the essays.
Here’s what Mrs. Gifford did not tell me about this job. I am the youngest person on the assessment committee by at least ten years. Most of the people on the committee were teaching English before I was born. The committee includes my freshman English professor, my two writing professors, one of my literature professors, the head of the education department, and the dean of women who used to be an English teacher.
We went around the circle and introduced ourselves. There were like 700 years of teaching, writing, and school administrative experience among them. And I was the last person to go. What do you even say? “I’m Erin. I graduated six years ago, I have two kids, and I work in a daycare. I have never actually taught English or published anything. I write in a blog and that’s the biggest English-related thing I’ve done recently except correct some poor college junior’s essays a couple months ago. Oh, and I’m also a Princess.”
Everyone was very nice and wonderful to me, not that that is a surprise, it’s a Bible college for Pete’s sake. They’re contractually obligated to be nice. They didn’t make me feel like a student or a lesser being, but treated me like an equal, which was weird but cool.
But I have no idea how to address these people. Dr. So-And-So? Mrs. Whatsit? I was raised to be respectful and you don’t just go from calling everyone by their titles to six years later being all chummy, flinging your arm around their shoulders, and saying “Hey, Sharon, how’s it going?” It’s a dilemma. I wish one of them would say “Call me David.” Then I wouldn’t feel like a naughty student calling my teachers by their first names.
Do normal people even worry about this stuff or is it just me?
Anyway, we sat for two and a half hours and hashed over the purpose of our being there, the way the rubric works– the kind of thing that most people would find eye-crossingly dull but which was a much-needed mental workout for me. These people– these funny, experienced, wise people– think it’s funny to make jokes about ending sentences with prepositions and splitting infinitives. And don’t tell anyone, but I think it’s funny too.
The point is, that even though I was way out of my league and quickly discovered that I have a bleeding heart and will gladly make excuses for students who aren’t up to par, I had fun hanging out all morning in a room in the library with a bunch of college professors who are old enough to be my parents. I had fun making grammar jokes and reading terribly written, sanctimonious papers by kids who have absolutely no clue what the big world is like. I admit it. I had fun evaluating essays today.
What is not fun is the fact that I am now second-guessing every sentence I type.
Let’s just say that if I turned this blog entry in to that committee, I’d be signed up for remedial English next year.
You can call me the Princess of Hypocrisy.