I recently took a unit on sci-fi and popular literature at uni. I took it as in I taught it, but you’d be forgiven for thinking I was just a bystander. Anybody who knows me knows that I should never be placed in a position of power. Not because it will corrupt me – that ship has sailed – but because I’m wildly incompetent. I take directions (if they’re given to me very slowly and repeated numerous times). I don’t give them.
A major concern of mine was that someone would see me at the petrol station and wonder where their thousands of dollars in tuition fees were going. What would I do if one of the kids saw me and then the whole class started calling me Pump Monkey, or Dr Pump Monkey? What if the week after that, someone brought a bell in and rung it while all the students chanted “dance, Dr pump monkey, dance.” I would probably do it, too, knowing me. And then thank them afterwards for the opportunity.
Sure, I could tell them that your job doesn’t define you and that anybody who judges a person’s worth based on their annual income is morally bankrupt, but they would probably just roll their eyes and start uploading the picture they took of me dancing to social media. They’d tag me in it, too, knowing those turds.
“If a certain someone comes in here,” I said, to my work buddy at
Coles Express one day, “I may need to run away quickly, and you may need to serve for a while.”
“But why?” she asked, dumbfounded.
“Because, ah, because, well, you see…” The look on her face was heartbreaking. “Here’s the thing, *Saanvi – while you and I might have no problem working here,” I said, motioning between the two of us, “there are some bad, BAD people in this world.”
So, it turns out you get asked for a LOT of extensions when you’re a lecturer. I should’ve known, because I used to request them all the time when I was an undergraduate. What I didn’t know back then was that all of my peers were doing the same thing. A lot of the excuses were detailed, too. Weirdly detailed. In my day I kept things concise but vague – anxiety, or the like (the genius being that no one wants to question someone with anxiety because they don’t want to make them more anxious).
But here, the excuses ranged from the banal to the genuinely bizarre. In my one semester teaching, I listened to a story about a bungled eye op, a dead grandma, Bali belly, a removed boob and a near-fatal car accident. “And this here…” a girl said, pulling out her phone and pointing to a picture of a smashed up car in a ditch, “is where the car rolled. When the tow truck finally came, it took about two hours for them to pull us out.”
She was 20 minutes into her narrative before I realized what was going on. “Ohhhh,” I said. “You want an extension.” She was relieved because she didn’t have to show me any more stock images of totalled cars, I was relieved because I didn’t have to listen to the rest of her story.
“When can I hand it in?” she said, wondering what she’d wear to that rave she could now make.
“Oh, whenever you feel ready,” I said.
You might think of my behaviour as irresponsible. You’re probably right. But I couldn’t really care less whether she was telling porkies. The lengths these kids were willing to go to for a few extra days of freedom was astonishing, and frankly, that kind of outside-the-box thinking should be rewarded in an academic setting. Plus, I reasoned, with a bit more time up their sleeve, maybe they’d hand in something mind-blowing.
Wrong. A drunk cat rolling back and forth over my keyboard would have produced better work than the majority of what the students handed in. “Is English even their first language?” I said to my housemate, wondering how a native speaker could write a paragraph devoid of full stops, commas, or any kind of logical trajectory.
I drank a lot that week just to get through the marking. I started to think of my petrol station days with fondness. Oh, to be asking people for the millionth time if they have flybuys or whether they want a product they probably would’ve already bought if they wanted it, I thought.
“So guys,” I said, the week that I handed their essays back, “when you write an essay, you kind of have to have a point.” They stared at me blankly. “Has anybody heard of the APE model?” I asked. One guy in the back row raised his hand. “So,” I said, taking a deep breath and pointing to the ‘A’ that I had written on the board, “basically you need to be making an assertion of some kind. And then,” I continued, moving my marker down the board, “you have to prove it with a citation.” A few of them pretended to take notes. “And finally,” I finished, “you need to flesh it out for your reader, or explain how this proves your assertion/s.”
For a moment there, I started to think that this might be the real Megan. That the real Megan was actually a consummate professional who knew exactly what she was talking about, who was revered by students and peers alike. She was logical, capable, responsible and accomplished. She was a power suit in human form.
It lasted for about ten seconds. Then the voice of the actual Megan, the one that farted on the way into class, piped up. “Don’t get ahead of yourself, pump monkey,” it said. “I saw you wear your housemate’s undies on your head last night.”
*Names have been changed to protect the innocent.