Friday, April 29, 2011

Waiting for the bus

Today when I arrived at the bus stop there were two people waiting already. The man presented the woman as his wife and insisted in having her walk a bit to show me, by her gait, that she was handicapped. I thought there was something also slightly off about the man, but the exchange was surprisingly deep.

"- What kind of work do you do?
- I teach.
- Oh, you're a teacher! Good for you! [Hug, while I uncomfortably wonder what an appropriate reaction would be]... how many students do you teach?
- About 100.
- And how many fail?
- Oh, maybe 2 or 3.
- Why do they fail, those 2 or 3?
- I don't know.
- Maybe they're not interested?
- Maybe.
- And how long do students stay?
- 4 years.
- They stay 4 years, and then they're off? And they all do good except 2 or 3?
- That's right.
- And then you teach another 100 students? Every year it's like that? They leave and do good, but you stay behind?
- Yes."

That man, who seemed to have something slightly wrong with him, managed in 5 minutes and in spite of my terse answers to raise some of the more difficult questions related to teaching: why do some students fail? How do we deal with being "stuck" at the college level while students mature and move on to the next phase of their lives?

Later on the bus, as I was working, I vaguely heard him talking loudly, but didn't really pay attention. Suddenly the bus stopped, and the driver, apparently struggling to contain his anger, shouted: "All right, enough already. Get off the bus!" A very unpleasant, tense discussion followed, with us as silent bystanders. One man intervened to express support for the driver, because "I've got to get to work", he said. The driver threatened to call the cops. The man answered that he had paid his fare and had a right to be there. The driver replied: "Well, I'll talk to them, and who do you think they're going to believe, you or me?" The woman got off, in her shuffling gait, saying: "I'm getting off. I don't want to get arrested." The man finally got off as well, and we resumed our ride. One woman started chatting pleasantly with the driver. Another one said: "That's the kind of things that happen in the 9am bus. The population is much more diverse than in earlier buses". Several people laughed. I felt bad for the stranded couple, thought the whole incident had been poorly handled, the man should have been allowed to stay on the bus, and wished I had done something. Speaking up had seemed pointless at the moment. A very unpleasant incident! (And that made me late for my meeting, too).

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