Things That Shouldn’t Happen in Old Testament Survey but Totally Did
Since 1993 I’ve been teaching at least two sections of Old Testament Survey to students at the private Baptist university where I’m employed. During these 21 years, things have happened in my classroom that, honestly, shouldn’t have. I’m sure other professors have their horror stories (or comedies of error, as the case may be). Here are mine.
1. The Manicure
Evening class. 6:00-8:45 p.m. These are long, long classes, even with a fifteen minute break in the middle. And, for some reason, these classes can bring out the worst in people. One evening, I was lecturing as usual, when a student in the front row got out his fingernail clippers and methodically began his manicure. Clip. Pause, pause, pause. Clip. Pause. Clip. Clip.
At first I tried to ignore it, because how many fingernails does one actually have? But somehow he managed to continue clipping for an eternity. Finally, I was driven to distraction and I asked him to stop. He looked at me quizzically, as though doing manicures during lecture was a completely logical thing to do. His cuttings remained around his chair for the poor maintenance people to clean up.
I should have offered him some polish.
2. Chewing Tobacco
One day, I was approached after class by a young woman who looked mortified.
“Yes?” I asked, wondering what I’d said that upset her so.
“Well,” she began tentatively, “the guy who sits behind me?”
“Yes,” I replied. Was he talking? Kicking her chair? Cheating on quizzes, I wondered.
“Well . . . he’s spitting chewing tobacco on the floor.”
“WHAT? Are you kidding me?” I asked.
“No. He really is. And it’s making me feel sick to my stomach.”
The thing is, our classrooms are carpeted. Despite being in West Texas, we don’t teach in barns. I simply couldn’t imagine a grown man (well, college student) actually spewing tobacco on a carpeted floor.
So, after the next class, I called him up to the front..
“Um,” I said, “Are you spitting chewing tobacco on the floor?”
“Yes, ma’am,” he replied.
I saw no remorse; not even an inkling that he realized this was a problem. Where had he been raised that spitting chewing tobacco (or even just spitting) on carpet was okay?
I said, “Well, that’s really, just really, gross. Don’t do it anymore. There is carpet on the floor, you know.”
“Yes ma’am,” he said.
And, as far as I know, he stopped spitting chewing tobacco on the floor. At least in our building.
3. The Hiccups
I inherited severe hiccups from my father, who, legend says, hiccuped for three months straight when he had to join the army.
When I get the hiccups, I don’t get them for three months, fortunately. Nevertheless, they are an all-day affair, recurring after every meal, every drink, and sometimes spontaneously erupting at inopportune moments. I am unable to rid myself of hiccups without an embarrassing ritual involving sitting down, head between my knees (so I don’t faint), and noisily gulping down air to force my diaphragm into submission.
One day, in the middle of lecture, my hiccups made an unwelcome appearance. “HYICK!” I busted out suddenly. My hiccups aren’t dainty. They are the gut-wrenching, completely humiliating kind. “HYICK!” I hiccuped again. My students were enjoying this immensely. What made it worse, is that I knew I couldn’t stop the episode without doing my ritual, and, by gosh, I wasn’t going to do it in front of them. “HYICK,” I hiccuped again. “Um, excuse me for a few minutes, will—HYICK—you?”
I hustled to the ladies room, sat on a toilet, and performed my anti-hiccup ritual. The ritual takes some time, and often I have to employ it more than once. Eventually, the hiccups were gone and I returned to class and resumed my lecture. I’ve never seen such smiles.
4. Watch Alarms
When I was as green as a new instructor could be (and I was deeply green), I taught students who could smell insecurity like horses can smell an inexperienced rider. I taught night classes every semester (because I was on the bottom of the totem pole), and often the students who took the night classes were (a) non-traditional, mature students and (b) athletes. Now, I’m not saying that all athletes are immature, but in this particular night course, I had several baseball players who were rude, insolent, and immature. Once they realized I was a noobie, they took it upon themselves to make my life as miserable as possible.
One of their little tricks was to set their watch alarms to go off at 8:30, fifteen minutes before class was supposed to be over. And they would just let them beep, and beep, and beep. I tried to ignore it at first, because that’s what you do to bullies, right? You ignore them. But finally after several class meetings with beeps beginning at 8:30 I confronted them. “Class ends at 8:45,” I said with as much authority as I could muster. “Please stop setting your watch alarms for 8:30.”
“Yes ma’am,” they all said, politely. But they found other ways . . .
5. Me vs. Tolkien and Tolkien Won
One day I was waxing eloquent on the Judges only to notice that one of my better students was sitting front and center with a book on his desk. It wasn’t the Bible. It wasn’t a notebook. He wasn’t taking notes or listening to anything I said, and I mean Ehud’s story is gory and full of potty humor—what’s not to love? Normally, when students do stuff like this, I wait until after class to confront them, because embarrassing them in class usually backfires. But this was so blatant; so completely unabashed, sitting right there in front of God and me and everybody, I couldn’t let it pass.
So, I sauntered up to him. “Watcha reading?” I asked in my most I’m- furious-and-I’m-going-to-humiliate-you-voice.
“Tolkien,” he said. “The Two Towers.” He showed me the cover.
“Crap,” I said in my head. Because I’m a Tolkien fan. I adore The Lord of the Rings. I’ve read those books numerous times, and frankly, they’re better than Ehud.
“Oh.” I said out loud. “Well . . . that’s a . . . great book. But, um, don’t read it during class.”
“Okay,” he said. And he put the book away, but I noticed he still didn’t take any notes. I suspect he was musing about Aragorn and Arwen or worrying over Frodo and Sam.
“Gollum,” I said in my head.
6. Death Threats and Bullies
Old Testament Survey isn’t a class where you would expect death threats and bullies. In fact, I doubt such things have happened in anyone else’s OT Survey. I’m lucky that way.
Two incidents come to mind, and both involved group projects, which is clear evidence that you should never assign group projects.
The group projects I had my students do involved presenting one of the feasts of Israel. Each group was supposed to research the OT background behind the feast, OT celebration practices, and, to make it culturally significant, they were to research how modern Jews celebrate the feast. In addition they were to lead the class in the feast so that we could experience it.
The feast project wasn’t the problem. The problem was this: the students’ grades came from three sources. 1) I gave the group a grade (70% of the total). 2) The class evaluated the presentation (15% of the total). 3) The tribe members evaluated each other (15% of the total). It was that last element that caused the problems.
First incident: Death threat.
For some reason, one of my tribes was quite small—three members, all male. They did a relatively poor job on their feast and when they received their grades, each of them could tell what grade the other two had given them for their tribe member evaluation.
After this group received their grade, one of the members came to my office the next day in a rage. “I’m gonna kill him!” he said, as he barged into my office. “Who?” I asked, backing away as best I could. “So and so!” (the name of the tribe member who gave this guy a poor rating). Remember, this comprised only 15% of his grade).
“He gave me a bad grade that son of a [redacted]! I’m gonna kill him!” I must say, this was a first: death threats in the School of Theology.
I managed to calm the student down somewhat. I reminded him that it was only 15% of his grade. I also reminded him that death threats were looked upon negatively by the school. From the looks of him, I feared he might kill me, too.
After he left (to my great relief), I called the Dean of Students and reported him. He wasn’t kicked out of school, and I don’t remember what he made in my class, but he was one scary dude.
Second Incident: I’m Gonna Beat You Up after Class.
Night class, again. Thank God I don’t have to teach those anymore. Once again, a tribe had completed their presentation and received their grades. And, once again, one student had given another student a bad rating. The student that received the bad rating was a burly football player.
At the break, the student who had given the poor rating approached me and said, “So and so just threatened to beat me up after class.”
“What?” I said. He repeated himself. “Oh, good grief,” I sighed.
“Um,” the student said. “Could you walk me to my car after class, just in case he comes after me?”
The kid was pretty scrawny and pitiful looking. So, I said, “Yes, of course,” not really thinking. At all. Because how was a tiny, female Bible professor going take on a football player? WHAT was I thinking? But, after class, I walked the student to his car without incident. I later contacted the football player and confronted him, eliciting an apology to the threatened student.
I could use some body armor.
7. The Arrest
Usually my Monday, Wednesday, Friday classes were a little more tame. It was a Friday, and the admissions office had sent over a few prospective students to sit in on my lecture to see what real university classes were like. I welcomed them, of course, and then began lecturing. I don’t remember where I was in the Old Testament, but I tried to make it especially interesting to woo the students from Baylor or Princeton or wherever they were going.
In the middle of class, the door burst open and two police officers and one of the campus police entered the room.
“I need to see so-and-so right now,” one police officer boomed. I looked at the student, horrified. He looked back at me, mystified. But he got up and went to the classroom door where, in front of all of us, the police officer proceeded to cuff him and read him his rights!
“Um,” I said (I say that a lot, and it’s a bad, bad habit). I walked toward them. “Um, excuse me? Could you please do that out in the hall?” So they pushed the kid out of the room, leaving the door propped open, still reading his rights. I closed the door gently.
The class was silent. All the students had those big eyes you see on frightened cats. “Um,” I said again. “Well! Ha, ha! This doesn’t usually happen in classes here!” I assured the visiting students. They looked unconvinced.
“So . . . where was I?” I was shaking like a leaf. This was so bizarre. I knew the student. He was a ministry major! Just as I started lecturing again, the door burst open a second time. The police officer said, “We need his backpack. He won’t be coming back.” OMG! I mean REALLY! This was so over the top and sounded so threatening that I thought the kid must’ve murdered someone or dealt drugs or something.
I went down the row (the student had been seated right next to our prospective students, of course), and picked up his notebook, put it in his backpack, and took it to the officers out in the hall.
Needless to say, the remaining lecture wasn’t all that great. And I daresay those prospective students did not come back.
Later, I found out what happened. The student had taken his youth group to Abilene State Park and apparently had the wrong camping permit. The. Wrong. Camping. Permit. Really campus police? Really Abilene police? You interrupt my class, arrest a student in front of his peers, humiliating him, all because of a wrong camping permit?
Apparently, in Abilene, yes.
So there you have it—things that shouldn’t have happened in Old Testament Survey but totally did.
The moral of the stories above? Don’t teach Old Testament Survey. It. Is. Dangerous.