My Russian History class is two hours long.
I used to think it was absolutely cruel that church services lasted an entire hour…I mean, who could sit still for that long? Couldn’t the preacher condense his message to a well-organized fifteen minutes and still get his point across?
Yet here I am, willingly subjecting myself to sitting still for twice that length, without the luxury of padded orange benches straight from the ’70s.
The lectures are densely packed with information, and there’s no option of looking up the power-point slides later online. Our only hope of a good grade comes from taking detailed notes, and you better believe there is smoke coming out of our pencils as we balance our notebooks on the tiny desks and wish there was space to set a calming mug of tea to sip every now and again.
One day my teacher said, “Our topic of the day is Russian movies. We were going to watch The Storming of the Winter Palace, but we can’t after all, because my only copy is on VHS tape and they removed the VHS player from this room.”
The class heaved a collective sigh of disappointment. Wouldn’t it have been nice, we thought, to get a break from this relentless note-taking? To be able to sit back in our uncomfortable tiny desks and relax with a Russian film? But alas, it was not meant to be.
Monday, when I got to class, the teacher had written “319” on the board in large letters. “We’re meeting in room 319 on Wednesday,” he said. He didn’t say why at first, but it eventually came out that we were going to watch a different Russian film, Aelita: Queen of Mars. This movie was apparently also on VHS, and room 319 still had a VHS player.
When I got to room 319 on Wednesday I was amazed. “This is so nice!” I exclaimed. “Look at these giant wooden tables to spread all our stuff out on!”
“I know,” said the girl next to me. “I had to buy these small composition books so that they’d fit on those tiny desks in the other classroom.”
I happily spread my large binder on the table, and wished I’d stopped to get some tea, as there was now ample space for it. “And look at these chairs! They’re so big and soft!” I sank down into one. “This is such a nice classroom.”
The other students murmured their agreement.
There were still a few minutes before class started, so I continued on in the same vein. I felt very strongly about this. “Why can’t we be in this classroom all the time?” I asked. “If we have to sit for two hours, shouldn’t we get soft seats? If we have to take so many notes, shouldn’t we get a desk we can actually fit our notebooks onto?”
“I don’t make that decision,” said the teacher.
“Who does?” I asked, out of curiosity.
He gave me the name of some department. I dropped the issue then, and began…I don’t even remember what. Fiddling with my backpack, or talking to the girl next to me, or something. I didn’t even notice that the teacher had left for a bit until he came back in with a man I’d never seen before.
“These students have something to say to you,” my teacher told the man.
The man looked at us.
“Um,” I said, “are you the person in charge of deciding which classes happen in which rooms?”
“Actually, most of it is done with a computer program,” said the man.
“Is there any chance we could switch to this room?” I asked. “I mean, we have to sit for two hours, and these chairs are WAY more comfortable. And we have to take so many notes, but it’s hard to take notes on those tiny desks.”
“Hmm,” said the man. “That might work.”
“And,” I added, “this classroom is obviously open during this time slot, so…”
“I’m not sure if it’s always open during this time slot,” said the man, “but I’ll check and get back to you.” And he left.
We watched the movie. It was odd, but my hand got a much-needed rest from note-taking, and my hind end was blissfully comfortable in the plush chair. When it was over, and we all began to pack up our backpacks to leave, the instructor stopped us. “Let me quickly run over and see where we’ll be meeting for our next class,” he said.
We waited patiently.
He came back bearing good news. The wonderful classroom with the large desks and comfortable chairs was ours for the rest of the term.
I never dreamed that I had the power to change what classroom we were in.
I just complained about the situation because complaining is what people do when they can CLEARLY see a better alternative to the option offered. It didn’t cross my mind that those complaints would lead to actual change.
I thought I was powerless.
I think there’s a moral of sorts buried somewhere in this story. I don’t think people should start complaining about their classrooms and demanding a change of location. That could be pretty chaotic. I do think, though, that we (at least, I) tend to complain about things instead of actually trying to make change.
This is usually because we (I) feel powerless. But maybe we have more power than we realize.
A few additional unrelated notes:
1. As it is the last day of April, this is the last MOP post. You can catch up on all Mom’s contributions here, and Jenny’s here.
2. If you were closely tracking me you may have noticed that I was supposed to post yesterday, but didn’t. That’s because Jenny accidentally posted on the wrong day, and I thought, “whatever. I started MOP, I might as well end MOP too.” So here I am, on Jenny’s day, ending MOP.
3. Tomorrow and Saturday, May 1 and 2, Mom’s latest book Footprints on the Ceiling will be free on Amazon.
Download it here.
Tell all your friends.
This was interesting. Your teacher is a pretty good person, if he was willing to move your complaint through. He could have muttered about his discontented students and not connected you with anyone who could help. He could have thought he was powerless too. In order to cause change, we often need to work together with many different people on many different levels of power.