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Students say the darnedest things

02/07/2022 | Media Contact: Claire Sylvester | (609) 343-4933
illustration of a college classroom

By Vickie Melograno, assistant professor of English

As I prepared for the upcoming spring semester, it occurred to me that, as of 2002, I’ve been teaching for 24 years. I started reflecting on all the odd, comic, and even poignant memories I have of students I’ve taught throughout the years.

In a developmental reading and writing class I taught at the University of Sint Maarten, one student’s journal entry gave me a start. I would typically begin class by writing a quote on the board for students to respond to in their writing journals. On this day, I chose one from baseball legend Yogi Berra: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” I chuckled when I read one student’s response: “I agree. I think you should take a fork in the road because it could puncture someone’s tire.”

Surprisingly, that isn’t my only student fork story. Years later, teaching in the Rio Grande trailer that served Atlantic Cape’s Cape May County campus at the time, I asked students to keep a vocabulary list (with definitions) of new words they encountered during the semester. About midway through the term, I asked them to submit their lists. No doubt desperate to fill up some space on the page, one student included the word and definition for “fork.” My feedback was, “What have you been eating with all these years?” 

At Caldwell College in North Jersey, I taught a jokester who was also a James Bond fan. He thought it clever to refer to me as “Moneypenny,"to which I would reply, “That’s M to you.”

Other times, I’ve been more likely to get teary-eyed than laugh. In the same course with the Yogi Berra incident, I asked students to respond to this well-known quote: “The only thing necessary for evil to flourish is for good men to do nothing.” I was stunned at the wisdom of one teenage girl’s response: “I don’t agree with this. Sometimes even when good men do something, evil wins anyway.” I still wonder about the life experiences that had led her to such a mature conclusion at such a young age.

In another Sint Maarten class, a student wrote a narrative essay in which she described the devastation of losing her mother, with whom she had been very close. She detailed her feelings of loneliness and pain. One line from her essay has stayed with me: “The sunshine was my only friend.” I was grateful that she lived in the Caribbean, so that her friend would be with her near her every day.

Much is said of teacher burnout, and no doubt it’s real. But our mental scrapbook contains some rich and rare memories that can refresh us if we would just take the time to recollect them.