First Day’s Wrong Way: A back-to-school story
Fourteen years ago I walked into MLK hall on the campus of Lincoln University in Jefferson City, MO ready to start my journey as an education major. I studied my schedule and made my way up two flights of stairs to my first classroom. It was Humanities 101. I wasn’t sure what a humanities course would be about, but I knew I was eager to get started.
The instructor was a wiry, animated man, who admitted to being technologically challenged, so his syllabus would be ready at our next meeting. (“The stupid copier wouldn’t give up his papers.”) His movements were jerky and delibrate and his build gave him the aura of a scarecrow. But clearly this man had a brain and was a talented storyteller. The story he told about names in the local telephone book and where they came from was intriguing. He shared the historical roots of names and explained how they were related to those of famous American writers. It was a really cool start to my semester but I could not figure out how this would tie into my humanities course, so I sat tight.
As the discussion got deeper, the clever man upfront began talking about the expectations of an advanced level literature course and a sinking feeling of “wrong place at the wrong time” grew in the pit of my stomach. Soon he asked everyone in the course to share what they hoped to get out of the class and what their plans were beyond graduation. I officially knew I was in the wrong class.
In an attempt to save myself any further discomfort, I quietly raised my hand. This gesture brought great joy to the man’s already grinning face and he clapped his hands freverently because he had a “volunteer.” I admitted to him that I thoroughly enjoyed his introductory lesson, but that I would not have the priveledge of finishing the course as I was in the wrong room.
His face froze and went blank for a second. I wasn’t sure what to do and those in the classroom, who had just given out a nervous laugh at my expense, also sat unmoving.
Well, he clapped again, “I guess we will miss out on hearing your plans for how to use this class until another time.” He smiled at me and then quickly turned his attention on a student, whose name he did know, and I silently, burning with embarrassment made my way out.
His name is Dr. Noel Heermance and he is one of the most engaging teachers with which I ever had the priveledge of studying. My wrong turn into Dr. Heermance’s class led to my eager enrollment in the course two years later.
In the American Literature course, we were introduced to the history and style behind famous American works. Dr. Heermance loved to map things out for us and, of course he could never get the map to roll down and stay down, so he would draw us his rude outline of the United States. (We fondly came to refer to the this as the Heermancean map.) He was thrilled when those of us in the class were as engaged as he was with the written word and complimented us often on our participation. We wanted to learn as much as he wanted to teach. It was an honor for all of us.
After finals that fall, I recieved a letter in the mail. In it was nothing more than a Heermancean map with a star drawn in the general vicinity of our hometown. There was no signature but I knew exactly where it had come from. It is still my favorite Christmas card ever.
Even if I had not made that wrong turn, I still would have enjoyed Dr. Heermance’s class. The fact that I knew something great was ahead, if I could just get back there, made it that much more enjoyable.
In 10 years of teaching high school, I had three such first day incidents occur. My hope for those students is that, when they did eventually get back to my class, they found the same kind of positive direction I did from Dr. Heermance.
If you are suffering from a wrong turn, don’t give up. There might just be success at the end of that road. You might even get a taste of what lies ahead if you just stick with it for a minute.
Thank you, Dr. Heermance.
By: Melanie A. Peters