This weekend Milo finally found a job.
Back home at the farmhouse, my dog Milo has a lot of responsibilities. His nemesis, the woodchuck, lives under the barn and keeps him in a state of constant vigilance. Squirrels would occupy the lawn if Milo were not there to keep them in the trees where they belong. He has encountered possums in the porch, deer under the apple tree, and coyote in the woods. Simply patrolling the yard to see that there have been no recent incursions is a full-time job.
But here in New Mexico, I could tell Milo felt useless. The yard is enclosed by a tall adobe wall and the only inhabitants are Milo and three chickens. Supervising chickens is no kind of job for an ambitious dog. Milo doesn’t think much of these chickens and, frankly, neither do I. They don’t lay eggs and if their corn gets low they congregate at the door and cluck at me disapprovingly. I throw a little corn to these feathered freeloaders while they watch me, beady-eyed. “Don’t you know anything?” the chickens say.
Then I go back to my room and try to put together a lesson plan.
The university has been kind enough to allow me to attend school in exchange for teaching freshman composition. A whole class of them was showing up at 7:00 AM and I was expected to teach. I knew it was a terrible mistake.
First of all, I am not a morning person. I don’t get up early unless I set two alarm clocks. (I call one “belt” and the other “suspenders.”) If I actually made it on time, I imagined these students would naturally want to know where I had taught before. I would tell them I had never taught so much as Sunday school. They would then assume I was some sort of expert in composition before I told them that I had never taken a composition class. “Well, that English degree must be worth something,” they would insist, before I confessed that I had no English degree and had never even taken a course in the English department.
At this point I imagined them all calling their academic advisers and lodging formal complaints. I would be summarily sent packing back to my farmhouse where Milo would resume chasing squirrels.
I showed up at 7:00 AM, doing my best impersonation of someone who routinely rises with the sun. The room was packed with bright-eyed eighteen-year-olds. This was their first class on the first day of their first semester. They were frighteningly serious and looked at me with rapt attention. I felt like a total fraud.
But when I got their first assignments back, I had a shock. I knew nothing about English departments, composition, or grammar but I did have a pretty good idea how to help these earnest, early-rising students write a little better. I could tell them how to start a paragraph and when to use a comma. They were grateful and enthusiastic and I was utterly astonished to find that I felt… useful.
So this weekend, Milo and I went to dinner with some new friends to celebrate. I told them all about teaching and how much I liked it. While we were talking, a small gecko began scaling the outside wall of their house. Milo lunged. The gecko disappeared under a bush and Milo spent the rest of the evening waiting for the small, hairless squirrel to reappear. I could tell he was happy.
It’s good to be useful.
Till next time,