Today in calculus class something happened that’s haunted me all day.
The hilarious chubby young math major whose oafish enthusiasm always cracks everyone up wasn’t there, so it was a dullish class. A long Tuesday lab, 75 minutes of poor math prof wrangling the material, herding the student-cattle through the rushing river that is Alternating Series. Not really one of the more exciting areas of calculus.
Math prof was his Usual Animated Self. And the class listened, and did examples, and I think we all missed Chubby Math Boy there to be so unabashedly goofy and full of delight in math. (He snaps us all back to life with his antics. It’s like taking calculus with a spaniel puppy.) I looked out the windows at the Quad a lot. At the people walking in the rain. At what they were wearing.
Towards the end of the class math prof said, with his back to us, something along the lines of “I won’t take much longer here; I know you are eager.” And he did not say to go but I heard it nonetheless. He said this gently but audibly, and completely without rancor. I won’t bore you much longer; I know you’d just as soon be done with my talking. I won’t keep you much longer; I know you’d rather be somewhere else.
It’s those words that have haunted me all day. His tone, only faintly resigned. The fact that I would indeed have just as soon been on my way to the commuter student parking lot, headed home for lunch. The fact that in my dreams of college, I never quite envisioned myself so crapped out, and my atomic fireball of a prof so subdued and so aware that he is not exactly playing to his ideal audience. As a math student, I’m not exactly playing to my ideal audience, either.
I don’t pity math prof. I’m sure he has and will have his times of teaching to classes of the math-able students that must bring him excitement and pleasure. Cal II is a general class, stuffed with engineers and chemistry majors and not many people who care to play for long in the fields of pure math. And I don’t pity myself. I’m here by choice.
I wondered all day why his words stuck in my mind so. Class isn’t always like that; it was just a rare dull day, for us and him both. But driving home through the rain this evening it came to me. I saw myself in him, maybe. Math prof and me, I think we’re both used to better results for all our hard work. We neither of us much care for mediocrity. Especially our own.