Dismissing Ruth

Sometimes I forget how much I wanted the job I have now, teaching writing to college students. How when I actually got the job, it seemed like a dream come true for me, almost too good to be real. How did I do it? Hadn’t everyone in my life agreed long ago that I would never amount to anything? Didn’t I believe them?

I’ve always been reckless like that. Just going ahead and following my heart, despite obstacles.

But sometimes, a personality like mine gets so focused on its own desires that it rolls over people and misses opportunity. That’s what happened when I met Ruth. Standing in a group of strangers at my first official college function, I was determined to make my mark, to prove my worth, and ingratiate myself with the right people.

Then Ruth appeared at my side. She was short, shorter than me, even, and I’m only 5’3″. She had tightly permed gray hair and wore a steel colored suit. She was skinny, didn’t wear make up, and her light blue eyes protruded a little from her face. She held out her hand, shook mine.

“Hi, I’m Ruth,” she said with a big smile. I introduced myself, but didn’t smile back. I was too nervous and also wanted to impress people. She was clearly not anyone I needed to impress, since she’d been so eager to meet me. Maybe people here didn’t like her, maybe nobody wanted to talk to her. Maybe she’d latch onto me and hold me back from my brilliant career.

Ruth must have felt my cold shoulder, because she drifted away. Soon, the meeting started, which is when Ruth introduced herself as the dean of the department. 

Ruth never seemed to hold my naked ambition or obvious disregard that first day against me. We got along just fine, even though I always wondered if she’d sensed my scorn.

 I loved my job, but like all the rest of the adjunct faculty, really really really wanted a full-time tenured position. It’s what I’d wanted since before I was even hired. But those spots were hard to come by, and more often filled by PhDs from big name schools than adjunct faculty.

One day a few years later, Ruth saw me in the hall and casually asked if I’d like to teach ESL (English as a Second Language) classes. She knew I’d taught ESL for a local adult ed program. But that’s what I’d been trying to get away from. My dream was to teach important subjects like literature and creative writing, not ESL. So I said no to Ruth. Again.

A month later, another adjunct faculty member said yes and was given a full-time slot.

What I regret most when I think about Ruth is not the missed opportunity to be a full-time faculty member, although that does figure into it. But more, I regret how I dismissed her upon first meeting because she didn’t fit my idea of what a dean, or even a new friend, should look like. 

I learned some hard lessons from my association with Ruth, one of the wise women in my life, who has since died of breast cancer. For example, I learned that ambition really is blind. And that I am not always a nice, sweet person. I also learned that living only to attain the heart’s desire is not the same as living with heart.

0 Comments on “Dismissing Ruth

  1. I am not someone that anyone actively tries to befriend. I have always been Ruth in that regard. But I don’t think you made a mistake in turning down the ESL. If that were your passion, it would have been evident. Had you taken it only for the full time slot, wouldn’t you have come to dislike it? I took a reading slot once simply to move “up” as I saw it (not that there is an up or down or anything in middle school where all moves are lateral) and I came to loathe it and myself for not staying with something I was better at and loved.

    Still, I get what you are saying about letting ourselves get in our own way.

    I think working at the college level would be fun sometimes but I am not sure how one goes about it. I always got the impression that post-secondary people considered me more of a babysitter than a teacher.

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  2. I have quite a narrow idea about who can be my friend too. My husband tells me. I’m only looking for people very similar to me in age, interests, lifestyle and everything. I didn’t like it when he told me, but I guess he was right and I have been terribly stupid. I don’t know. It might also be that I am such an introvert and it is so difficult to me to make conversation that the mere idea of speaking to someone I don’t have so much in common with scares me to death. Could be.

    Your story of Ruth is beautiful. It’s fascinating how first impressions can be so treacherous and yet so powerful and unshakable.

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  3. Annie I’m not sure how they do it in Canada, but in the U.S. all you need for post-secondary part time is a master’s degree in your subject. And English is a good subject because every incoming college freshman has to take two comp courses.

    And Lori, thank you. I’m like you. I am most comfortable around people who I have a lot in common with, including age and hobbies, interests, and even income levels. For a long time it was really hard for me to work with such young people. I like your idea that it could be because we’re introverts.

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  4. On the point of ESL courses, I don’t blame you for turning down that ESL teaching position. It is hard teaching English to an adult immigrant. I myself had been in an ESL program back in 1989 when I had first come to the country. I lasted in the program for a couple of months; I felt it was ineffective, a waste of time. I learned more English cleaning tables in a restaurant, interacting with customers and employees, than from attending those long ESL classes at the local college.

    Frankly, for some ESL students, I personally thought it was just hopeless, but I suppose that depended on how much English they wanted to learn based on what they wanted to do with the language, whether to run a gas station or write a novel.

    Really, to learn a language one has to modify (or update) the way he/she lives. So how many immigrants are willing to do this, or let say, able to do this, not many I’d say…a few.

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  5. Khaled, I know what you mean about those classes seeming like a hopeless task. My students were wonderful people, the most respectful and nicest students I’ve ever had, but everyone was at a different level of understanding English and they were from many different countries, so the job was almost impossible and I felt I was not helping the students who needed it the most. Thanks for reminding me why I stopped doing that job. I agree that just living and interacting is the best way to practice English.

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