J E Crossman: Nodders and Dreamers

As a former university professor, I’m aware that students frequently comment on the idiosyncrasies of their teachers. We are given nicknames and mimicked for amusement in the local watering hole. Discussions about our attire and gestures can entertain students for hours. What they fail to realize is that one day, instead of sitting in the classroom looking in the direction of the blackboard, some of them will be facing the opposite direction, desperately trying to get the message across to their own students. To foreshadow what these potential teachers can expect, I have classified students into seven categories:


These students have that far-away dazed look. Either last Saturday night or this upcoming Saturday night occupies their thoughts. Every now and then, dreamers pop out of their daydream, listen to the lecture for a few minutes, realize they are totally confused and return to Never-Never Land.


These individuals are particularly susceptible during videos and PowerPoint presentations. Dozers have been known to pass out and, in some extreme situations, even snore. Dimming the lights or turning them off completely can be disastrous. Turning on the lights after a presentation is most annoying to the dozers. There are also the pseudo-dozers who don’t completely pass out, but fall asleep, jolt awake and crash again.


These students can’t stop talking. One-hour classes are painful – two-hour, impossible. Gabbers make sure they sit beside aspiring gabbers so the fine art of talking between lecture points can be learned and practised.


These are particularly unnerving because they are actually listening and thinking. Even worse, they pick up on any contradiction and have the audacity to ask the very question the teacher hoped to avoid. All teachers must identify these disruptive and dangerous students and develop strategies to ensure they never think again.


The keeners sit at the front of the class, are always on time and have books, laptops and writing instruments ready before the lecture begins. Teachers frequently ask keeners what the homework assignment was. These enthusiastic students never ask for time extensions on term papers. Keeners have the knack of irritating the non-keeners.


These students ask questions (often personal) to try and get the teacher off track. Their questions often have nothing to do with the topic the instructor wants to cover. For example, a sport and politics lecture might yield a question such as, ‘How do you feel about the outcome of the upcoming federal elections?’


They are my personal favourites. Having at least one nodder in the class is a must. When it is obvious that 90% of the students don’t have the foggiest notion of what the lecture is about, the teacher will turn to the nodders for reassurance. This up-and-down reinforcing gesture of the head sends a signal that at least a few individuals comprehend what is being said, although I sometimes wonder if the nodders are nodding purely out of habit or truly acknowledging what I am saying.

So the next time you overhear students commenting on the unusual outfit, protruding belly, unfashionable hairstyle, unorthodox pronunciation, or monotone voice of their teachers, remember that one day, some of them will be looking back at their own collection of dreamers, dozers, gabbers, questioners, keeners, de-railers and nodders.

J E Crossman was a professor at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario Canada, past-president of the Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop and for 18 years was a member of the Thunder Bay Writers Guild. She has had short stories in anthologies and literary magazines and has won a number of prizes. In 2017, she was honoured to have her play Golf Lessons chosen to be staged at the 10X10 Play Showcase in Thunder Bay and has her poem, First Sighting carved in granite at the Thunder Bay marina. She is a member of Exeter Writers and divides her time between the UK and Arizona.

Twitter: @JaneCrossman14

Details: www.exeterwriters.org.uk/