Apparently, it takes about a week in my class before my students stop being surprised when I ask them to do something like picking a rubber duck from a basket and writing a detailed presentation and sales pitch advertising their duck to an audience of robots who have just learned to love. It takes about two weeks before they trust that I have a pedagogical purpose driving what I ask them to do and they stop asking before they get started.
In my life, I haven’t been known for very much. There’s probably a sushi buffet with a picture of me on a wall, no way to tell if that means praising me for my work or condemning me for my single-handed attack on the delicious fish of the world. I’m pretty certain there is at least 3 living bicyclists who have heard me emphatically singing “lollipop lollipop oh lolli lolli lolli pop,” but the poison should be working on them soon. And, then there’s this blog where, I don’t know, people might know me as some kind of sour egg with many, many issues. Despite all that, I can’t say I’ve ever really had a reputation, but that might be changing, and I know that because my colleagues, like my students, have stopped being surprised.
I don’t know the reason they came to be there, but there is a basket of rubber ducks that had once been an actual child’s toys before they came to a small office in my building. Teachers are allowed to check them out if we want to use them for a lesson. This is a college campus. There aren’t any classes in which a rubber ducky might seem to belong. My students tend to range from 18 – 30 and often are married, have homes, have varied and full lives involving taxes and traffic tickets and vicious reviews on Yelp. Knowing all that, I check the ducks out at least three times a semester. I make my adults play with these little rubber duckies with their strange eyelashes and silly hats and amalgam of animal features. I love it, and my students seem to like it too. Who doesn’t love a rubber duck in their composition classroom.
I checked the ducks out yesterday. The office didn’t seem surprised, but why would they be? That’s what the ducks are for. They asked how I’d be putting this inexplicable basket of bath toys to use. I told them I’d be having my students pick a unique duck from the basket–there is a wide variety, including Dr. Ducks and ducks with the coloring of a rottweiler–and then they would have to sell make a presentation selling their duck to one of 4 audiences: adults without children, children who trust their parents and nobody else, hermits who have not left their forests in 20 years, and robots that have recently gained sentience and learned to love. Their response: “Oh, that sounds fun.” Nothing else. No call to justify my job. No concerned eyes wondering if I’ve come into work high on PCP. I hadn’t. There was no demand for further explanation because, finally, they just don’t care. They’re used to me.
Later, I told my students what they’d be doing in class, including their incoming opportunity for duck entrepreneurship. They laughed, but there wasn’t any question of whether or not this was something they should be doing in a college class. There wasn’t any request for an explanation as to what reasoning I could possibly have for asking them to spend 15 minutes drawing on giant pieces of paper different ads for their unique ducks. They’re used to me.
If I could keep this going for the rest of my career, I’d be happy. If I developed a reputation as the weird teacher with the ducks that makes you write about robots and lonely people and draws sad animals on the board and praises tea as if it saved her life and gives off the vague sense that it has been a really long time since being within 1000 feet of a store that sells clothes that have never been worn, I’d be pretty cool with that.
Maybe then the weird students would come to me instead of me having to coax it out on my own.