Chalky Fear in my Chest… (Last and Final)
(Madame Ginette Tremblay a relevé pour la troisième fois un défi peu commun : traduire en anglais la dernière chronique de Sophie Torris, La craie au ventre… encore ! Ginette Tremblay, elle-même professeure, a reconnu, dans la description que donnait la langue savoureuse de Sophie, les angoisses de tous ceux et de toutes celles qui ont à se présenter devant une classe et à passer une matière. C’est à l’intention de nombreux enseignants anglophones que notre traductrice s’est efforcée, avec succès, de rendre le verbe agile et syncopé de notre chroniqueuse.)
Schools are now empty, colleges deserted, universities depopulated. The professors are on summer vacation. Isn’t it the best time ever to talk in their backs? Because, you see, my Cat, if I teach with chalky fear in my chest, I do admit that I have been a student ever since my greenest youth, a student forever. And so, that is how I came to study my professors and their aptitudes to colonize the podium. If, for some, I have genuine “gut” recognition, I was not immune to certain types worthy of stomach flu. In that event, I propose that I attempt a classification of “the beasts” in order to discover what is hidden within their midriffs. All resemblance to anyone living or dead is not purely coincidental.
Let us begin by an analysis of the “ghost professor”. Paradoxically, he is without wits or if he does have some, he does not show it. If he attends the first few shows in a ghostly manner, one cannot say that he has the Poltergeist effect. He’s into recycling of old-filmed conferences that once made him famous and counts on a network of guest speakers to do the work for him. The “ghost professor” will take utter attention in leaving a calculated, learned mess on his desk: a few half-filled evaluation reports, a partly-corrected dissertation, a book kept half-opened by a pen. One could easily be mislead in thinking that he was at it only a few minutes ago. But the coffee grounds in his cup are dry and the place has nothing of a shadow cabinet. This type of professor rarely succeeds in haunting students’ memories.
The “somniferous professor” is always there. He is much a part of the furniture and has been for ages. Slouched eyelid over a washed-out iris, he has lost the sense of time. With his protruding belly, he gives, in a monochromatic lecture, the same compulsory lecture he has been giving since he entered the service, half a century ago. His office is his den and smells like one. Nobody ever saw him arrive in the morning or leave at night. Leaning against a window, on a hanger, droops a shirt as dubious in look as the one sagging on his back, like a second solitude.
The “chummy-chummy professor” thrives on friendly relations. Students quickly adopt with him the ‘slap-on-the-gut’ attitude and call him by his surname. Students take his courses to raise their average, because everyone knows that “Jack” has the easy A+. The study of the subject is therefore nothing less than an opportunity to make friends. In reality, “Jack” is thirsty for love. So, he will take advantage of the podium to showcase himself. Nothing subliminal about the picture slipped between two slides in the Powerpoint presentation showing his last family vacation. The “chummy-chummy professor” shares everything advisedly: His wife, his kids, and even his old ant if she is still alive. Evidently, his classroom management abilities leave something to be desired as can be seen in a number of performances filmed unwittingly and posted on YouTube. All love “Jack”, notwithstanding the fact that he is often teased and that nothing much is learned from him.
And then, there is the “sexy professor”. Impeccable plastique: In-place abdominals, Colgate smile, guarantied “Axe” effect. Even without fragrance, he succeeds in stimulating olfactory instincts of the most innocent. His ignorance of his good looks makes him all the more so charming. His course is the only one where students arrive a good half-hour in advance in the hopes to get a seat in the front row and where one has quickly forgotten the purpose of presence. In fact, Cat, the truth is that all attend his lectures only to look at this mouth articulate theorems and the pleasure to be left speechless.
Hey Cat, have you ever fallen in love with one of your professors? Rare are those who never experienced during their ‘salad days’ a secret and platonic passion for one of their schoolmasters. The swoon is generally unilateral, but it may occur that one professor abuses his aura. After all, all colleges and universities swarm with potential Heloises. “Professor Abelard” is in his dashing forties but sees with anguish the other decade approaching. Consequently, to cling to a barely post-pubertal is for him…sort of reassuring. Don’t you go think that his belly dance is not aforethought. If very paternal pedagogical connivance takes place (with the number of young ladies suffering nowadays from father absence), he know, excessively Socratic might he be, how to open her Pandora’s Box of intimate confidences. It is by commenting repeatedly and in a very flattering manner her copies that “Professor Abelard” will succeed in forging a beginning of troubled epistolary relation that will extend way beyond class-time.
There he is, tousled hair, belly-down, only a few seconds before class starts, a trolley-case about to explode, always cluttered with a pile of photocopies in case he runs out of material. This is the “compulsive perfectionist”. He wants to do well…too well! Silence is a pet peeve he tames unconsciously by a short, similar, often ridicule formula, as soon as his lecture suffers a setback. In fact, his students take pleasure in counting the times they occur. Every flight of oratory is accompanied by an itching and sneezing nose that finally ends up smudged with chalk. He takes assurance by leaning on technology. His slide shows are real ‘sound and light’ presentations. He thrives more specifically on bold letters that accelerate before suddenly breaking to take a stand on a screen. Even if, on the fourth letter, everyone has guessed the rest of the sentence, one nonetheless has to show good will and wait the end of the Grand Prix.
THE Professor, with a capital P, is a specialist of his subject and he knows it. He knows himself to be ultra-competent, as uncontested and uncontestable master of his field. Specialist of himself, he arrives in class empty-handed with his one and only belly-button. His over-dimensioned ego sometimes hardly passes through the doorway. The Professor, with a capital P barely cares for the students with a minus S. He prefers over all to listen to his own speech. He does not bare contradiction, and if he risks a question to one of his colleagues, he evidently answers it himself and thus, outlines his indubitable infused science. This professor can nonetheless inspire respect and hire a submissive flock that will sweat for him in his shadow. And he will of course be the only one to collect the laurels.
You must be made aware, dear Cat, that for certain, students only represent cheap labour destined to obtain grants and funds. And so, that is the way the subsidized “professor-researcher”, who spends the major part of the time he should use teaching, researches better ways to avoid teaching. It is when his request for release is being refused and that he is obliged to give a course that the subsidized “professor-researcher” shows his genuine nature. Caught into frustration, he spills his vociferous poison on the podium, settles his scores, in front of his poor students, with an incompetent administration that does not know, Good Heavens, how to recognize his brilliance.
Well, Kitty, what do you think of this portly satire? I have the impression to have heard you laugh through your stomach. Have you recognized, under my chalky sketch, someone in particular?
I will not take the trouble to define the “good professor”. That one is remembered by all. He was not necessarily the nicest, the funniest, the most compliant. Perhaps he has some of the flaws cited previously, but he loved me. He loved me enough to transmit something that I shall not forget. Annie Symoniak, Jean Trelca, Georges Laferrière, Nicole Tremblay, Marta Anadon, Luc Vaillancourt, because of you all, I now have chalky fear in my chest.
About the translator :
Ginette Tremblay is a Master of Arts student at the University of Quebec in Chicoutimi. Aside from her research interest in Shakespearean studies, Ginette holds a B.A in TESL and is currently teaching English as a second language at Cegep de Jonquiere.