For reasons I would never find out, whoever was in charge of scheduling at the University of Jeromeville did something different for the winter and spring quarters of 1998. Winter classes began on a Wednesday instead of the usual Monday. I did not have a problem with that, but pushing everything back two days like that had a ripple effect on the rest of the academic year, leading to a very annoyingly inconvenient schedule for spring break and spring quarter. But that is a story for another time.
I had to get up early five days a week now for a class at eight in the morning, but the class was not on the UJ campus. I locked my bike in the bike parking at Jeromeville High School, which was much larger than the bike parking I had ever seen at any other suburban school. Jeromeville touted itself as a bicycle-friendly community, and this local culture trickled down to all ages. I walked to room E-3; I knew my way around the E building, where the mathematics classes were, because I had done this same thing before last year, only with a different supervising professor back at UJ. I arrived about ten minutes before the scheduled time for class; the door was open, and a few students were sitting in desks, talking. A middle-aged man with graying brown hair and a mustache sat at the teacher desk. He was of averageheight, slightly on the heavy side, with graying brown hair and a mustache. He wore a dress shirt with a tie.
“Is this geometry, with Mr. Gibson?” I asked.
“I’m Greg, the intern from UJ.”
“Yes! Greg! Nice to meet you.” Mr. Gibson shook my hand.
“So what should I do?”
“For today, you can just sit in the back and watch how things work in class. If you feel ready, you can start walking around and helping students at the end of the period when they start homework.”
After the bell rang, Mr. Gibson read the morning bulletin to the class. “If you look in the back of the room, you will notice someone new with us,” he announced. “This is Greg. He’s a student at UJ, he’s studying to be a math teacher, and he’ll be helping out in our class for the next few months.” I waved as the students in the class turned around to look at me.
As Mr. Gibson began his lecture, explaining relationships between angles when two parallel lines are cut by a transversal, I looked around the classroom. Many of these students looked bored. Mr. Gibson was standing at the front of the room lecturing, and some students were occasionally copying things from his lecture into their notebooks. I took some notes of my own while Mr. Gibson lectured, but instead of writing down theorems about parallel lines and angles, I wrote my thoughts on Mr. Gibson’s teaching style and how students responded.
I had done an internship like this the previous school year, in Mr. O’Rourke’s precalculus class. My professor of record last time was Dr. Samuels of the mathematics department, and this internship was set up through Dr. Van Zandt of the education department, so it would show up on my transcript as Education 197 instead of Mathematics 197. I was told that this internship would essentially be the same thing, although I could see a few subtle differences in the classes themselves already from the first day. Mr. Gibson’s lecturing style seemed more bland to me than that of Mr. O’Rourke, who was funny and had more interaction with students. Mr. O’Rourke was older than Mr. Gibson, but he did not fit the stereotype of older teachers being boring. Also, typically only college-bound students took precalculus. A geometry class had a mix of college-bound younger students and upperclassmen who were behind grade level in math. The best students that Jeromeville High had to offer would never even be in this geometry class. They would have finished geometry before even getting to high school, two grade levels above state standards. That option, apparently commonplace in a university town like Jeromeville, was never available to me growing up in working-class Plumdale.
Students began their homework with about fifteen minutes left in the period. Mr. Gibson addressed me at this time. “You can walk around answering students’ questions,” he said.
“I’ll do that,” I replied. I began circulating up and down the rows of desks, watching to see what students were writing. I did not engage any of them in conversations yet, although I thought about doing this sometime soon after I was more comfortable in this new position.
At one point, one of the students raised his hand as I walked by. “Hey, can you help me with this?” he asked.
“Sure,” I replied. I looked at the top of his paper, where he had written his name. “Matt,” I replied. “I don’t know everyone’s name yet. What was your question?”
“This one,” Matt said, pointing at a diagram with two parallel lines labeled l and m. A third line labeled p intersected both lines, with the acute angle between p and m labeled 37 degrees. The question asked to find the obtuse angle between lines p and l. “What did you learn about this today?” I asked.
Matt turned back a page in his book and recited from it. “‘If two parallel lines are cut by a transversal, the alternate interior angles are equal.’”
“The angle you know, and the angle you’re trying to find, are they alternate interior angles? Look at the diagram.”
“I don’t know. They don’t look equal.” Matt studied the diagram. “I don’t think so.”
“They’re not, because they’re on the same side of line p. So did you learn something about angles on the same side of the transversal?”
Matt turned back to the page with the theorems on it and continued reciting. “‘The angles on the same side of the transversal are supplementary.”
“Are those angles on the same side of the transversal?”
Matt looked at the problem again. “Yeah.”
“And what does supplementary mean?”
“Isn’t it, like, the angles add to 90, or 180, or something like that?”
“So to find the angle, I would do 180 minus 37?”
“Exactly. Good job.”
As I continued walking around the room, it occurred to me that maybe I should have asked Matt to look up the definition of supplementary himself. But I think that was a positive interaction. Matt figured out most of the problem himself.
After the bell rang, Mr. Gibson asked me, “So what did you think?”
“It was good,” I said. “It’ll be good to see your teaching style and compare it to others I’ve seen.”
“Have you worked in a class here at Jeromeville High before?”
“Yeah. Last year, with Mr. O’Rourke.”
“I’m a little different from him. He’s good, though.”
“It’ll be good seeing a different perspective.”
I rode my bike from the high school to the Memorial Union on campus, a distance of about a mile. I arrived a little after nine, giving me almost an hour until my next class. I had no homework yet on the first day of classes, so I grabbed a copy of the Daily Colt, found an empty seat, and read. My friend Eddie Baker was a writer for the Daily Colt, and he had written a fluff piece in today’s issue about made-up slang words and what some would call the butchering of the English language. My eyes landed on a pull quote in the middle of the article, in bold font and slightly larger printing:
I laughed out loud. Buttass. That was hilarious. Something clicked in my brain after a few seconds. I knew Jason Costello; he was one of Eddie’s roommates in that big house on De Anza Drive. I knew all of their other housemates too: Ramon, Lars, John, and Xander. I had never heard any of them say “buttass.” It was probably Lars. “Buttass” totally sounded like a Lars thing.
After skimming the rest of the articles, I folded the paper over so that the crossword puzzle was showing. I finished it in about ten minutes, so I tore the puzzle out and put it in my backpack to put up on my wall back home later, next to the other puzzles I had finished. Today’s puzzle seemed fairly easy, compared to others I had done. Buttass easy, I thought, giggling to myself.
My next class was Mathematics 150B, Introduction to Abstract Algebra. This class was a continuation of 150A from last quarter, except that the same professor did not teach it. This new professor, Dr. Lisitsa, was a large gray-haired Russian man whom I could understand although English was clearly not his first language. Many of the same familiar math majors from 150A last quarter were in this class, including Katy Hadley, Jack Chalmers, and Melissa Becker. Most of 150A was easy, but it had started to get difficult toward the end of the quarter, so I was a little apprehensive about this class. By the end of the first day, though, I was still following along with everything just fine.
After Abstract Algebra, I felt like a change of scenery, so instead of going back to the Memorial Union, I walked to the library. The library had been expanded several times in the history of the university, to the point that it had become a rectangular ring with three distinct architectural styles surrounding a courtyard. Behind what was now, but had not always been, the main entrance, a wall of windows three stories high looked onto the courtyard, with stairways in different directions leading to the basement, second floor, and third floor. Part of the building had a fourth floor as well, but it was not accessible through these front stairways.
I climbed all the way to the third floor on my left. I could have used an elevator, but I felt like climbing the stairs. At the top of the stairs, I turned right toward the back of the building and walked along stacks of books on my left and windows on the right. The wall was almost two feet thick, and the windows were recessed, flush with the outer wall facing the courtyard. This created a rectangular cubbyhole-like space in front of each window, about five feet long, where students could sit and study. I sat parallel to the walkway, with the walkway and book stacks on my left and the window on my right, my legs stretched out as far as they could. I read through the section of the math book that we started in class today, then began working on homework. With a three-hour gap between classes, I may as well get an early start on the quarter.
A little after twelve, I was hungry, so I walked back to the MU and got in line for a burrito. I walked to the tables, looking for a place to sit, and found Sarah Winters and Caroline Pearson, whom I had been friends with since the first week of freshman year. “May I sit here?” I asked, gesturing toward an empty seat at their table.
“Sure!” Sarah said, smiling.
“Hey, Greg,” Caroline added in her Australian accent, slight now after having lived in the United States for a decade, but still noticeable. “How are your new classes?”
“Good. I’m TA-ing at Jeromeville High again in the morning. Then today I had Math 150B, and I have Ed 110 later this afternoon. Tuesdays and Thursdays I’m TA-ing again, and then Math 131. Probability.”
“I took 150A and B last year,” Sarah said. “I thought 150B was kind of hard. But I’m sure you’ll do fine.”
“You’re a teacher’s assistant at the high school? Is that for a class?” Caroline asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “Education 197, for two units. I did something similar last spring.”
“Oh yeah, I remember that.”
“When is your next class?” Sarah asked.
“Not until two,” I replied.
“Do you have that big gap in your schedule every day?”
“Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. It’ll be a good time to get work done.”
“Are you tutoring for the Learning Skills Center, like you did before?” Caroline asked.
“Not this quarter. I didn’t want to overdo it.”
“Good idea,” Sarah said. “Now, you can have meet someone for lunch at eleven, and meet someone for lunch at twelve, and meet someone for lunch else at one.” She smiled.
“Haha. I guess I can.” I’d probably run out of people to have lunch with quickly, though, I thought.
“How was your winter break?” Caroline asked.
“It was good. I made a silly movie with my brother and his friends. And I went to Valle Luna to see Brian Burr, for his New Year’s party.”
“How is Brian doing? Where is he now?”
“New York Medical College. He seems to like it. What about you? What did you guys do for your break?”
“Just hung out with family. We went to the snow for a weekend.”
“Nice! Sarah? How was your break?”
“It was good. I had Christmas with family. Saw a couple of my friends back home.”
“That’s nice.” I thought about how I did not have friends left back home, except for my brother’s friends Cody and Boz, but I decided not to bring up that topic.
By one o’clock, Caroline and Sarah had both left for class. I still had another hour free. This three-hour gap between classes would take some getting used to, but within a few days, the workload would ramp up and I would be buttass busy, with plenty to do.
Today, though, I was done with homework, I had read the Daily Colt, and I had eaten lunch with friends. I walked south to the Arboretum, which ran for a mile and a half from southwest to northeast along a creek bed which had been filled to become a long, narrow lake. I sat on a bench amidst trees from all over the world and took out my Bible. I opened to the back, where there was a plan to read the Bible in one year by reading three passages per day. I turned to the chapter and verse that was listed for September 15. I started in January of 1997 with the passages for January 1, but I had fallen behind by a few months at this point, since I only read four or five times per week. After I read, I prayed. I thanked God for this beautiful nature area right on campus, and I asked God that I would do well in my classes and not feel overwhelmed.
When two o’clock approached, I walked toward Orton Hall and my Educational Psychology class. The course catalog listed Psychology 1, which I had not taken, as a prerequisite. Josh McGraw, one of my housemates, had taken both of these classes, and he did not remember anyone checking to see if everyone had passed Psych 1. He thought I would be fine without it. Josh gave me his old textbook for the class too. After the first day, I was still keeping up with everything. So far so good. This was a class based more on reading and writing than mathematics, which was not particularly my strong point, but I had done fine in classes like that before.
The internship in Mr. Gibson’s class was five days a week. On Thursday morning, the second day of the quarter, it was pouring rain outside. I took a bus to Jeromeville High School, and later I took a different bus from there to the university, both new bus routes for me.
Lars Ashford was on that second bus I rode after Mr. Gibson’s class. “Sup,” he said when he saw me.
“Can I sit here?”
“Hey, I’ve been meaning to ask you. Yesterday in the Daily Colt, I read Eddie’s article about made-up slang words, and Jason said one of his roommates always says ‘buttass.’ Is that you?”
Lars laughed. “Yeah, dude, that’s me.”
“‘Buttass’ is a great word. I’m gonna start using it.”
I was a little bit intimidated after the first day of probability class. The professor, Dr. Craig, said from the start that he usually only works with graduate students and does not often teach undergrads. I got the impression that he thought we were beneath him. His teaching style was very lecture-based, as seemed to be the case with many professors who only work with upperclassmen and graduate students. I was following along okay, I would probably do okay, but that kind of teaching style does not work for all students. I was starting to see that in Mr. Gibson’s class, where some of the students got easily bored. They needed a more interactive experience, like Dr. Samuels from Euclidean geometry last year.
By the end of the class, though, I felt a little more comfortable. When Dr. Craig dismissed us, I got up to leave the room, but a guy who was sitting a few desks away walked up to me first. He said, “You look familiar. Do you go to U-Life? Or did you used to?”
I paused, trying to remember if I knew him. University Life was the college group affiliated with the First Baptist Church of Jeromeville, which was not my church, but I knew some people from there. “I did a few times last year,” I said. “I usually go to Jeromeville Christian Fellowship, but I was kind of frustrated with them for a while, and I had made some friends at U-Life and they invited me. Ben Lawton, Alaina Penn, Corinne Holt…”
“The poetry reading! At Alaina and Corinne’s house! That’s where I remember you from. You got up there and said a bunch of math stuff.”
“Yes! That was me! I don’t remember your name, though.”
“I’m Greg. Nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you too!”
I shook Mike’s hand, and we made small talk all the way to his next class while I attempted to hold an umbrella in the wind. It was buttass wet outside. I was done for the day, so I found a dry spot inside the MU to eat the sandwich I had packed. When I finished eating, I went to my spot next to the window in the library and did my Bible reading for the day.
The first two days of the quarter were complete. So far, so good. Mike from Math 131 seemed like a nice guy; I had to think of him in my mind as “Mike from Math 131,” because I knew so many other Mikes and Michaels and I did not know this Mike’s last name yet. I was enjoying helping Mr. Gibson’s students so far. And Ed Psych did not seem too difficult yet, although I was going to have to write a buttass long term paper later in the quarter. The rain was starting to let up by the time I got off the bus, but I still had to walk a few minutes to my house. When I got home, I took off my backpack and lay on my bed. It was time for a nap. I’m tired, I thought to myself. Buttass tired. This was going to become my new favorite word. Of course, some would disapprove of making up new words like this, but that is all part of how language and communication evolve. Some new words bother me, yet I have been known to make up new words myself. It probably has more to do with what the new word is. New words that bother me tend to be related to things I already do not like, whereas new words like “buttass” just make my inner potty-humor-loving child happy.
Readers: Do you and/or your friends have any buttass silly words that you made up? Tell me about them in the comments!
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