I graduated from college nearly forty years ago. So it was with a bit of trepidation that, late last month, I began a Saturday morning Spanish course at Sacramento City College.
Honestly, I thought it would be over before it began. Even one four-credit course is costly, once you consider tuition, books, parking permit, supplies, and gasoline at $3.16 per gallon. My hope was that perhaps my employer would pay for it. Keep in mind that I work for the state government, where red tape is the name of the game. I was surprised and grateful when I was able to obtain the proper signatures and the paperwork went through. If I get through successfully, I plan to make the expense well worth the taxpayers’ while. I hope that this will be the start of an adventure in the Spanish language that leads to certification, enabling me to assist with Spanish interpretation and translation whenever needed. And I look forward to never again being flummoxed when I answer the phone at my desk and the voice at the other end begins to plaintively ask me for help en español.
I knew this wasn’t going to be easy. For starters, I knew I’d be bidding adíos to lazy Saturday mornings sleeping late. (Or “sleeping in,” as most people say in California. I hate that phrase. Is sleeping in an alternative to sleeping out, as in camping in the backyard? Even after all these years in California, my first reaction upon hearing the phrase “sleeping in” is always “sleeping in what?” My PJs? My skivvies? Hmmm.)
More than hauling myself out of bed at 5:30 a.m. after a week of early rising for work, however, I couldn’t help but wonder what college is like in the new millennium. I fully expected to see my fellow students arrive in class with their mini-laptops. That doesn’t faze me. While I am far removed from the Twitter and Snapchat generation, and lack the depth of tech savvy of my younger peers, I feel confident enough to hold my own in a Spanish class with my old school looseleaf notebook and hard copy textbook. I planned to study, study, study to pull off that coveted A and make my employer proud.
Surely class participation, tests and homework couldn’t be that different than it was in the 1970s, right? Pay attention in class, copy down what the professor writes on the board, memorize all the stuff you need to know for the tests — surely the rules haven’t changed that much even since my elementary school days.
Let’s just say that I was in for a bit of a surprise.
First, there was the syllabus presented by the professor on the first day of class. It was 30 pages long.
One of the pages of the syllabus informs students that a loss of class participation points will result from any of the following in-class responses to questions from the professor:
- I don’t have the textbook
- I did not get that far.
- I did not do that one.
- Can I do a different one?
- I did not understand the assignment.
- The library did not have an available textbook copy.
- Incoherent/unrelated/random answer.
- Answers in English/failure to use Spanish.
- “I don’t know.”
- I am trying to connect to the eBook.
The last time I recall trying any of these was in sixth grade. Why is the professor doing this? Surely no one who has made it to college would stoop to such depths? This professor must just be trying to show that she’s strict, I decided. There are always some teachers who like to lay down the law on the first day, right? Surely such grade school style micromanagement is unnecessary at this stage of education.
During the second class session, I was sadly disappointed. Nearly every one of the excuses listed in the syllabus was uttered by someone in the class. With twenty years of teaching experience, clearly this professor knew exactly what she was facing.
What really surprised me, however, was the list of rules I found posted on the wall when I sat down at a study carrel during the class break:
Keep your voices down.
Do not sit on the tables.
No sharing chairs! Only one person per chair.
Offensive language and bullying is unacceptable.
I was shocked that the college has to call out potty mouths and, um, bullies? Like on an elementary school playground? So, like, should I expect a fellow student to shake me down for my lunch money or kick me in the balls? Whoops, I don’t think you can say “balls.” Sounds like offensive language to me. And, um, sharing chairs? I don’t even want to know!
My junior high school was known as the Panthers, and the similarities are not lost on me.
Just when I thought I’d seen it all, fate conspired to play “Can you top this?” during Saturday’s class. It was rather warm in the building, and the professor had kept the door propped open to allow air to circulate. About halfway through class, a skinny young man strolled into the classroom and sat down two desks away from me. He was wearing no shoes and no shirt. Kenny Chesney notwithstanding, all of us immediately knew that there was indeed a problem.
“You’re not in this class,” the professor said calmly. That’s when I noticed that the young man was holding his T-shirt. It looked filthy. His body began jerking and shaking as he struggled to put on the shirt. “Yeah, I am,” he responded. “I’m late.”
It was fairly obvious that this kid was tweaking. When he finally got the shirt on, he jumped up out of his seat and ran out of the room. The professor had to stop the class to call campus security. I suppose we were all lucky that he didn’t have a weapon.
Welcome to college in 2018.