People Skills

by Roger Russell

  The class wasn't listed in the regular catalog.  I had checked that as soon as I got back to my dorm room from the meeting with the dorm mother.

   "It's a special class that is by invitation only. I think you might profit from it." She had smiled warmly, and offered me a brochure.

     "It's not an easy class, but no one that takes it, is ever sorry."

   So, here I sat in the science class, waiting for the visiting professor to show up. All the kids were bouncing in, or slinking in. It seemed that either they were way loud, or way quiet. There was another student from my dorm, but I didn't know her, we hadn't spoken. She was shy, a lot shy. She slipped into a seat towards the back of the room, right next to me and opened her folder, making sure she had pens and paper. But she never looke up. Her head was bent and careful to not look at anyone directly.

    But then the loudest girl on campus came barging in, with her friend talking from the door before leaving. Only Maria Consuela was invited to take the class. It must be selective, if she couldn't even get her friends in the class! But the activity at the side door, distracted me from seeing the professor enter the room, and lean against the table at the front, not yet approaching his lecturn.

    Maria Consuela barged to the front of the room, her loud heels clanging with a lot of effort at each angry step.

     "My friend wants to take this class, we take all our classes together, why can't she sign up?

     Taking another deep breath she kept blasting away.

     "My friends are important to me, don't you try to push your weight around, my dad is 'the' De La Rosa of the new De La Rosa cafeteria!"

     All the voices in the room stopped to see what this non-descript teacher would do with this mouthy, overgrown child. With her makeup on way to thick, clothes that would look flashy on a saturday night disco, he seemed to think for a moment before speaking.

    It was going to be fun, to see how he would react. The brochure said that successful completion of this course actually boosted your chances of college graduation, and even higher incomes after the educational program at the college. So, if this boring looking little man was that smart, it would be fun to watch.

    He pushed his glasses up a little, then looked her in the eye.

    "Do you spend the first 30 seconds in every room trying to dominate it?

    "Get out of my class. If you still want to take my class get the assignment from one of others and come wednesday. But until then, get out!" He motioned to the door, and waited for Maria Consuela to exit (dramatically of course).

     He had our attention.

     "Now, please take the children's book from under your chairs. As we proceed around the room, take turns reading aloud one page. There are only 4-6 lines on each page, so it shouldn't be too difficult."

     The childrens book was under my seat as he directed and I opened it. It was on some little trouble maker. He was right each page had one small paragraph, then a large illustration under it.

     I didn't get it? This was college study material? It was insulting, the first chair on the left began the story. The second student to read accidently dropped the book off his desk and had to make a big show of retreiving it. Then read each word slowly, like it was difficult. The student behind him was one of the quiet nerds, and he read so low, and mumbled so much, it was hard to follow him. The girl behind him was chewing bubble gum (against the rules of course) and had to take the gum out of her mouth, and find a tissue in her purse to put the gum on, before she read.

     The entire story was a struggle, with the professor watching, and encouraging cooperation, but not demanding it. Finally, with the last student, the story was over. Not that anyone cared, it was not a remarkeable story, by any means.

    We sat there, someone threw a paper airplane across the room. The professor smiled and moved to the lecturn finally.

    "As students, you probably have a hard time seeing yourself as others see you. It's hard to humans to develop that skill. But the successful people in any developed society have it. That's what this course is about.

    "For your homework, you are to write a two page summary of your actions here today, as other's would have seen it."

    He stepped to a science display in the corner. Lifting the lid he pulled out a video recorder, popped the side open, and lifted out a cassette.

    "You must be honest in your work, it's worth half your grade."

    Waiving his cassette, he smiled and headed for the corridor.

    I sat there waiting for everyone else to leave before I got up. After all, everyone knew I wasn't graceful. I didn't like attention because I wasn't attractive. I was too over weight, and my complexion was sadly lacking.

    Then I caught my reflection on a small mirror over a science station along the wall. Was I really unattractive? Is that how other's saw me, or just how I saw myself?

     It was a new idea for me. I remembered my bumbling and running ouf of air when I read my paragraph, but is that what other's in the room had noticed? I had better find the professor and view the tape, to make sure I had my homework right.

     His words came back to me "those that succeed in any advance society have the skill to see themselves as others do."

     Maybe this was just the class I needed!

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