Sunday, March 25, 2007


I've Turned Into My Teacher

Conventional wisdom has it that a point will come in every person’s life in which he or she thoroughly emulates the parent of their corresponding gender, to the extent that they have actually assumed that parent’s identity. It’s at this point in said young person’s life that they are supposed to violently lay their palm across their forehead and exclaim, “I’ve turned into my (insert appropriate parent).”

This action is most apt when the young person notices his or herself mimicking a certain tendency of this parent they once found bothersome. The corresponding parent of my gender is a gentleman of the working class, who never needed to be bribed into working long hours on the job and lived a simple lifestyle.

The downside of these diplomatically-phrased descriptors is that my corresponding-gender’s parent had little patience for time spent simply imagining things, or for any type of music recorded subsequent to 1965. Therefore, I would know that I had turned into him should I ask someone either “Why are you wasting your time with that?” or “Why are you listening to that garbage?”

I’ve tried to imitate my corresponding-gender’s parent’s post-Martin Luther work ethic in my liberal arts background, but I have yet to find myself in the managerial or patriarchal position that is a prerequisite for telling someone they don’t work hard enough.

I have also noticed that the popular music produced in the past two decades or so does, in fact, resemble discarded animal or vegetable matter. However, unlike said parent, I think this has less to do with the changing values of the times, and more to do with the fact that the music industry has convinced most listeners that an individual of pleasing appearance can be a “musician” even though they have all the creative potential of under-processed Limburger cheese.

Therefore, I have yet to strike myself on the frontal lobe and declare that I’ve become my father. However, recently, during my teaching tenure, I noticed a different kind of trend I wouldn’t have imagined just years ago. While a student at Southern Adventist University in Chattanooga, one of the most admired and austerely-regarded men on campus was Dr. Jan Haluska in the English department.

Most of the male English professors I’ve encountered at secular institutions have disheveled hair and consider “dressing up” to mean putting on a button-up shirt with a front pocket useful for storing tobacco products. Dr. Haluska had a haircut only incrementally longer than it was during his army days in late 60s, wore a suit every day and had the posture of a steel telephone pole.

He had an autographed photo of Dick Cheney in his office and opened semesters by telling his classes about the Battle of Thermopylae. “Three-hundred Spartans held off the entire Persian army for three days,” he said in a low voice, before dramatically shifting his pitch upward. “Three-hundred Spartans! I get emotional just thinking about it.”

I recall him stealthily approaching a student from behind in order to enlighten him about a university rule that few teachers even thought about: “Shorts are not allowed in this university’s classrooms.” I remember how his attitude toward late homework so intimidated my roommate that I was asked to deliver a late composition paper to his class. My roommate, a two-meter tall, 280-pound farm boy pleaded: “If I go in there he’ll make an example of me!”

However, for the best students, Dr. Haluska’s classes were a trial by fire and red ink, and some students said his lectures would be interesting even if he were talking about how to cook with tomatoes.

Fast-forward to more recent times when I, as a teacher for the Seventh-day Adventist Language Institute in Korea, was in my English conversation classes scheduling when my students would give their final speeches. Each student one had to talk about their favorite song, TV show, movie or work of art. But first, they had to write a draft and send it to me so I could correct sentences like “Bourne Identity is my best movie” or “I very enjoy Rodin’s art.”

They then had to send it to me a second time, so I could see if they had corrected their mistakes, and then I would let them speak. As class ended on this particular day, a student in his mid-20s named “Carter” asked me when he would give the speech that he had yet to show me. As his fellow students left class, they received a demonstration of what a native speaker with a Midwestern American accent sounds like when he raises his voice.

“When you show it to me like I asked you to,” I said, watching Carter slink backward and attempt to hide his face somewhere in his chest.

“Look at me when I talk to you,” I said. “You will not learn English until you do what your teacher tells you to.”

“I’m sorry,” he squeaked, before leaving class and embarking to search for his speech draft, along with his manhood. It seems not so long ago I was working part-time at fast food restaurants and calculating which professor at Southern would let me wear shorts. So, at this moment in class I had to wonder, “Have I turned into Jan Haluska?”

I can only hope.

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