Why did you just smear toothpaste down your front?

One of my favorite class days is the one each semester when I dress in scroungy clothes, ratted hair and streaked makeup. Just before class, I smear toothpaste down the front of my shirt. Then I teach class that way. If a student asks me why I look that way, I ask, “What way?” — which usually stops the questions.

The topic of the lesson is “how to persuade people to do what you want” in a variety of situations: the pickup line, the date invitation, the work-related project proposal, and the job interview. Some classes also talk about asking for a raise or getting a difficult relative to help out in a jam. Over the course of the discussion, I bring up the topic of appearance: “Have any of you ever had to persuade someone to give you permission to do something? How did you go about that?”

Then, “How did you dress for that occasion? Why did you dress that way? Would you consider going into that situation looking like I look today? Really? Why not?

“What’s that? You want people to take you seriously? Why wouldn’t they take you seriously if you dressed like this?”

And then: “How do you think it makes you look when you turn in papers that look like I look today? Misspelled words, funky formatting, coffee stains all over?

“How do you think it makes you look when you turn in a resume for a job application, and you leave in all those mistakes? How likely are you to get the job? Guess what! Those same skills you need in order to format your resume correctly are the skills you develop by proofreading your paper, especially fiddly areas like your Works Cited pages. This is practice for real life, people. Make use of it.”

Note: Next semester, I’m going to bring in a sample paper, formatted all nasty, and hand that around instead of asking my students to imagine one for themselves. Don’t worry, former students, it will be a fake paper, done in the style of some of the sloppier work I’ve seen over the years. Remember, all of you are above the class average.


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