“Why is she such a sucker?” the professor asked the class. The graduate students looked at their notebooks, cleared their throats, or squinted as if the sun had hit them in the eyes. “To me,” he continued, tapping my paper on the table to even up the pages, “this paper says that she is an idiot. Don’t you think?”
If a spear had shot from his arm and pinned my heart to the wall behind me, I’d have been grateful. I’m still not sure why I didn’t cry, but I sat in my seat, avoided eye contact with everyone, and when the professor asked me if I thought the paper was any good, I managed to say no without squeaking. Sometimes shame can vibrate straight through your skin to your bones. That’s how it felt for me anyway, when I had to read that paper out loud to the class. After I finished reading to a very silent room I considered never speaking again.
Well, the paper was bad. Five minutes after handing it in, I knew I had screwed up, and I had five days to think about how I’d be punished in front of my better educated, older, more experienced classmates. At least I faired better than the woman who he called dippy.
Humiliation, this professor would say, is a great teacher. Hey, a baseball bat with nails might do the trick too. You certainly wouldn’t forget either lesson.