I’ve given up getting better. Wait. Wrong verb. I gave up getting better years ago when my, at that time (meaning she stepped down soon after the following incident), long-suffering English Department Chair (the DC) suggested her faculty videotape themselves teaching a course. So we could study ourselves. Improve. I understood there was only one who needed improving. I laughed out loud in the meeting, declaring why would I want to watch a video of me doing anything, much less pretending to be a teacher.
So . . . next day, this something-millimeter video camera on a tripod appeared in the back of my classroom. Centered on my desk was a mimeographed purple-ink page explaining how to turn on the thing. I knew this would happen. I had come prepared: hand puppets–a pink bunny and hippo; DUSO-The-Dolphin, my elementary-school-counselor wife’s famous among grieving first-graders’ favorite puppet; and Harold the almost-life-sized monkey who had already damned me to the lowest circle of Dante’s inferno after Harold entertained a school bus of middle-schoolers, Harold extended the length of my arm from the driver’s-side-half-way-rolled-down window of my ’65 Chevy step-side, long wooden-bed, resurrected pickup the Counselor would soon sentence me to sell (I loved that truck), Harold successfully ducking all attempts by the Assistant Principal and my twin sons (conveniently locked out of the pickup) to grab Harold, strangle him off my arm. [Congratulations if you successfully navigated the wood-duck maze of that sentence.]
Once you have been damned, there’s no forgiveness, nothing forbidden, so I closed (locked?) the classroom doors, and Harold and I climbed on top of my desk, did a little dance, lay down and lectured to the ceiling on How Not To Teach Effectively, then produced from the grocery sack of visual aids The Rat (like DUSO, one of the Counselor’s cast of characters–the bully, the disturbed one–“Run away. Run away”)–and strutted to the camera at the back of the classroom as the students turned in their desks to face the camera and The Rat who had stuck his never-to-be-seen-again-rodent-grinning face smack dab in the middle of the lens as my previously-instructed class of he-made-us-do-it students sang out loud and proud: “Hi, Doctor _____!”
I suppose I should mention here that the previous week, evidence of the night-time ramblings and rumblings of at least one mouse, maybe a rat, definitely not a newt, had been found in the Department Chair’s office, and if there really is a “holy hell,” it burst its gates that morning when the DC saw her behaving faculty members pressed against the small window in each of my classroom doors and laughing (discretely of course) at what they and she saw. I’m pleased (proud) to say that was the end of videotaping classroom teaching. The good faculty were disappointed that the DC ripped the videotape from the camera and cast it into the unquenchable fire that, fortunately, also consumes all evidence that can be used in a tenure review.
* For my friends who could use a good laugh, no matter how short-lived.