© Copyright 2010 by John Sheirer
The clock seemed to move backward as an out-of-place teacher struggled to fill the hour.
The call came at 7:30, exploding Jack from Saturday morning sleep. It was the admission director at the community college where Jack teaches.
"Monica was going to talk about careers in the liberal arts, but she called in sick. Twenty people signed up. It starts in half an hour. Can you do it?"
Jack agreed, silently cursed his colleague Monica, gobbled some toast, ducked in and out of the shower, dragged a toothbrush through his mouth, put on a necktie, and raced to the college.
This was a recruiting program to attract new students. They mainly came from the technical high schools in the area. These were kids who either didn't like or had trouble with the traditional academic program. They were the bread and butter, the ones who weren't going to big state universities or small selective colleges. Open enrollment, minuscule tuition, and practical programs attracted them.
Today's event included introductions to such programs as accounting, computer repair, office administration, and machine technology, among the many other job-preparation areas of the curriculum. The "Careers in the Liberal Arts" session Jack was drafted to chair stood out like a sore thumb that also had a broken nail painted pink.
He had a hard time believing that twenty people would sign up of such an oxymoron. Perhaps they were late registrants closed out of the "real" sessions. Maybe they were just confused. Jack certainly was.
When he walked into the room, there were indeed twenty young people staring at him, waiting for him to enlighten them for the next hour. In the back corner sat two of their teachers in jeans and sweatshirts, looking as content as if they had just taken a break from tending their vegetable gardens to pop in for a visit.
Jack killed about ten minutes rambling about the college in general: small class size, great parking, and caring staff. Then he spent fifteen minutes trying to define the indefinite. Just what the hell is "liberal arts" anyway? He couldn't help thinking that his explanation only managed to confuse them (and himself) even more.
He asked them what careers they were interested in. One young man raised his hand and said, "H-VAC." Ignorance and embarrassment were now added to Jack's confusion when he had to ask him what "H-VAC" was. "Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning," the kid told him without a trace of condescension. No one else volunteered a career choice.
Another five minutes gone—although Jack honestly believed that the clock on the classroom wall actually started ticking backwards.
Finally, Jack turned to what he knew best: writing, critical thinking, communications. "You'll all have to write reports for your jobs, give presentations to clients," he said. "Employers want people who can work together and think creatively, not just do what they're told."
That took ten minutes. Then he asked for their questions. "Sorry," Jack responded, "but we don't have any sports teams."
Jack let them go ten minutes before the hour was up. Giving them plenty of time to get to their next session was his excuse, but they knew he had nothing left to say. They gave him a spattering of polite applause before leaving anyway.
As everyone filed out, the two teachers beamed at
Jack. They clapped his shoulders and pumped his hand, happy, it
seemed, not to be the ones faking it for a change.
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