Tales of non-traditional students

When I was in college right on through grad school, I used to find myself in classes with transient characters known as non-traditional students.  This was the term applied to older students (usually women) who found themselves going back to school (or going to college for the first time) with a predominantly much younger crowd.  Often they were flirting with the idea of college that they weren't really all that serious about, much in the way younger folk do with community college and then drop out a few semesters down the line when they loose interest to whatever else catches their fancy.  The pattern here was much the same.

Case No.1:  I was lucky enough not to actually have a class with Wolverine (so named for her claw-like fingernails that extended a couple inches past her fingertips), but my (then-)friend Janice did have one with her.  That meant I got to hear updates about her every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday within hours of the end of that class.  In fact, the stories about Wolverine grew so legendary that I and another friend actually went to Janice's class just to observe her in action in her natural habitat, so to speak.

Wolverine was probably in her '50s and almost certainly never married or had any kids.  I don't know that I ever knew what she did for a living, but she certainly had a lot of free time.  She consumed huge blocks of the class period derailing the lecture with off-topic questions and irrelevant (but self-aggrandizing) anecdotes.  My favorite of these began, "When I went to my first governor's ball..."  The emphasis on "first" was simultaneously sickening and hilarious in its transparency.

Additionally, at the end of the lecture she would sit in wait until all the other students had cleared away after their teacher had addressed their questions.  Once she was alone, then Wolverine could monopolize her and would keep the poor professor after class for some seemingly interminable period (which none of us were willing to stick around to actually clock for the record).

The professor was a fairly young and mousy woman who had likely only been teaching for a couple semesters.  She had almost certainly had never encountered a creature such as this, let alone one with bared claws.  In any case, she had absolutely no ability to be assertive and say, "I have a faculty meeting to go to" or "See me during office hours" or "I can recommend a great therapist who would be willing to listen to your stories, but frankly, I'm just not getting paid to stand here and have you heap this bullshit on me."

Case No.2:  In one of my English classes there was this Jewish lady in her mid-thirties.  She had a couple preteen kids and a fashion sense that was closer to what her kids were wearing than what we were in class.  She could not have looked more out of place at the redneck school we were attending.  From what we gathered talking to her, she had remarried and was now with a rich, much-older husband who was willing to foot the bill for this new hobby of academia in addition to financing her completely bizarre wardrobe.

One day I came to class wearing a pair of jeans that were really old.  In fact, one of the knees had worn to the point it was started to split and leave a big hole in it, whereas the other was just threadbare.  That same day our non-traditional friend came to class with a pair of obviously professionally "distressed" jeans with holes all over them.  She had definitely paid too much for them, and the "tears" were clearly fake... and outdated, as this was the early '90s and even hair metal (never mind the legitimate stuff of a decade earlier) was on its way out.  I pointed out that I had a hole in my jeans too, but then I told her it was on the wrong side and I was worried people would think I was gay.

"Really?" she exclaimed, clearly wondering how the earlier trend with earrings had transferred to blue jeans without her notice.  You could tell she was mentally sorting through her closet to see what she needed to toss out.

"I'm kidding," I confessed.  The guys around us listening in on the conversation snickered.  We played head games like this with her all the time.  I think I saw her a little the following semester, but then she disappeared.

Case No.3:  You may remember Bell from the Time-Traveling Tuesday a couple weeks ago about her daughter.  I met the mother in a speech class we took together my sophomore year.  I don't remember any especially egregious fashion attempts to time-travel to her classmates' age, but she and I did cut up like high-schoolers in there quite a lot, including (but not limited to) passing notes making fun of some of the dumb-asses taking the class with us.

After I had gotten in touch with her daughter again about a dozen years later, I wondered what became of Bell.  In case you missed the backstory, I transferred the next year after I met her and didn't stay in contact with her for very long after that.  I won't go into detail, but she (Bell) dropped out of school after only a year or two.  As her daughter put it, "She never finishes anything she starts."  That seemed to be the pattern where this demographic was concerned.

Case No.4:  While this one woman in my chemistry lab wasn't all that much older than we were, she was behind enough that she somehow had never heard the term "disco nap" before.  Another student and I were talking when one of us threw out that expression, and she interrupted with a very snotty "What the fuck is that?"  I think I was the one who explained it to her, but somehow I was to blame for the fact that she was ignorant of what I thought was a common expression.  I didn't bother talking (or even responding) to her anymore after that.

About a year or two later I had transferred already, so I don't know anything about her academic fate beyond that class, but I happened to be passing through the mall in town, and I saw her there with her husband and their two kids (probably ages two and four at the time).  She was having a tough time of it with the kids being uncooperative and the husband nowhere near as helpful as she wanted.  There was no love between them in that moment, and it didn't seem unreasonable to extrapolate that graph to divorce court within a few more years.  She wasn't very happy in her life, and I was very pleased to see she had ended up with the one she most deserved.

Case No.5:  When I went to grad school after teaching for a few years, I found myself in a graduate level neuroscience lecture class with a woman in her 50s.  You could tell she wasn't really following the discussion very well.  I remember her commenting that, "I think this is very esoteric.  Don't you think this stuff is very esoteric?"  I'm pretty sure that was the one she missed in Reader's Digest Word Power earlier that month, and now she felt compelled to push the word on everyone to prove she knew what it meant from now on.  Of course, she didn't.  This was a class on the fundamental topics in the branch of program she was supposed to be entering at that stage.  In other words, not esoteric at all.  I didn't see her anymore after that semester.

Case No.6:  A couple semesters later, this (again) much older woman turned up in a couple of my classes (developmental biology and advanced cell).  She hadn't been in school in at least a couple decades during which time "little" things like the Human Genome Project and the internet happened, just for starters... and here we were going to be expected to run searches for homologous gene sequences in several other genome databases for homework later that semester.

In spite of the fact that she should have realized immediately she was out of her league, her attitude was that she was superior to all of us solely on the basis of her accomplishment of having been born thirty years before most of her classmates.  Most of us didn't talk to her once we caught a whiff of the attitude.  In fact, one day several of my friends and I were talking before class and she wasn't part of the conversation.  It was only the second class meeting (We met only once a week at 6:30pm), and a friend was listing some bizarre assignments her professor put down for the students right at the start.

"What class is this again?" I asked.

The old bitch turned around, having heard only that line and sneered, "You don't know what class this is?" thinking, apparently, that I somehow just stumbled into a random lecture hall one night and, though I was talking to my friends, somehow didn't have any notion what classes I had registered for that semester.

I hope the look I gave her served as a mirror she hadn't ever consulted before.  "No," I said, "She's talking about a class.  I wanted to know which one.  We're having a conversation."

"Oh," she said.  She turned back around and shut the fuck up like maybe we'd just forget her how her smugness backfired.

Within a few weeks she started finding herself completely lost and ended up getting the university to shift her to a different set of more basic courses without her having to drop out completely.  Actually, I think she did anyway.  I never saw her again.

Copyright 2007 Alexplorer.
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