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Anger in the Back Row

dorindaBy Dorinda Fox

“Actors understand the infinite vastness hiding inside each human being, the characters not played, the characteristics not revealed. Schoolteachers can see every day that, given the chance, the sullen pupil in the back row can sing, dance, juggle, do mathematics, paint, and think.”—Wallace Shawn of My Dinner With Andre fame in his nonfiction collection Essays.

I tell students on the first day of class that rule number one is as of day two anyone sitting in the back row will be called on first. If I see students back there, then they really, really want to talk to me. Some move up front, and then have to interact with other students. Some test me by continuing to sit in the back and we get to know each other well.

I am four weeks into a class in which I am getting to know that particular sullen student. Sullen is an understatement for the resentment and anger that seeped out of her pores on day one. What I did not get on day one or until recently is how afraid this woman is of failing publicly.

I teach as an adjunct at a community college near

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