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Self Perception-Deception

June 1, 2012

The first time I applied for a job #teaching writing was like most writing opportunities that pay actual money. There wasn’t one. Then, as luck would have it, someone died.

I was offered a job teaching writing to undergraduate and grad students at a private college in my hometown—as a community service half the seats are open to the public. This was great but it meant it wasn’t “real” teaching. Convinced that supporting the writer would improve the writing, I put checks and check pluses on the better phrases… but they weren’t grades.

When I was eventually offered a job teaching writing as an adjunct English faculty member at the state university, one of my first purchases was a grade book. One day as I was handing in my grade sheet to the department secretary I said somewhat sheepishly, “Bet I’ve got a wait-list because everyone thinks I’m an easy “A.” If there is a clearer way to ask “do students love me?” I don’t know it. I held my breath until my pandering confirmed my suspicion. “Word gets around,” she said.

And then I had Miguel. Miguel was a South American transfer student notorious in the English department for having zero command of the language and an accent so tortured, not I, nor any of his classmates could understand a word he said. He was, of course, an English major.
But worse than the inexplicable field of study was the fact that Miguel also thought nothing of dominating the class with spontaneous lengthy monologues as if he were visiting royalty. He was the first student I’d found hard to love although I was ever mindful of the fact that tortured or not, Miguel knew more English than I knew Spanish.

When I asked students to share their final essays aloud, Miguel’s hand was first in the air waving wildly. I gave him a nod as classmates slumped in their desks, began checking their email or stared at me with open hostility. But as Miguel neared the end of the piece I recognized that he had written it with a refrain. “Who am I?” he had asked in his title and then repeatedly, throughout the piece—as if understanding the identity of the writer were a riddle the reader could help the writer solve. Finally some self -reflection, some serious contemplation. I began to pick up some clues in the string of nonsense syllables. “I know you better than anyone.” He read with sincerity. “I am with you always,” he said meaningfully. “I am closer than skin.” “I will never fail you.” “Where you go, I go.”

“Wow,” I thought, “this is about God.” I was ashamed of my lack of tolerance and felt a new tenderness for this student, so far from home, so out of place. And with that realization two mysteries were solved.

“I am your underwear!” Miguel chortled as his classmates gathered their books, and I had finally found the one student wouldn’t get an “A.”

#Write about someone whose personal perception is dangerously off. The woman whose bedtime lullabies cause her children to cringe or feign sleep, the ballerina with the leaden feet, the friend with the alarming new haircut she adores, the owner who refuses to acknowledge his beloved little dog bites the ankles of visitors.

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