by Nancy King
Everything was working out well. I crossed the Canadian border and passed through customs with no problems, reunited with friends I hadn’t seen in seven years, and prepared to meet my students—teachers who wanted to learn creative ways to teach literature.
The seminar coordinator was smiling, assuring me that the paper, pens, pencils, fingerpaints, and clay were all set up. She led me to the room where fifteen eager participants sat around U-shaped tables, waiting, ready to begin the first of four seminars.
Then I saw her.
A Middle Eastern woman, with two children, six and seven. She was sitting between two participants; her chair pulled back, her two daughters standing on either side of their mother. They were all hugging—three pairs of arms entwined around three necks. The other students were busy fingerpainting: I had told them a story and asked them to paint a moment in the tale that most affected them. The Middle Eastern student totally disregarded her classmates, and the assignment, as she fussed over her daughters, talking to them in a loud voice
I tried to hide my annoyance and gestured for the woman to begin painting.
She paid no attention to me.
I looked helplessly at the coordinator. She looked away. I tried ignoring the student. Impossible. She was taking up so much psychic and physical space I had to use all my years of teaching skills to keep the participants focused and involved.
I could feel anger rising inside me, growing stronger every time she disrupted the class. I had to control every word I said, every gesture I made so that I didn’t lash out. When I could no longer stand the situation I told the woman she needed to find something for her daughters to do. The students all stopped writing and stared at me.