Lessons Learned

I occasionally enroll in courses to explore topics I find interesting. Regardless of the material, I always learn something; mostly about people who enroll in courses for which they’re unsuited. If you want to make your own pasta, you should be aware that the basic recipe contains eggs and flour. If you’re vegan and gluten-free, you’re quickly going to realize you’re in the wrong classroom. Please stop screaming at the rest of us. We may be headed to early graves because white flour is death, but it’s none of your business if we like eggs. Excuse yourselves and take those people huddled in the corner who’ve been shocked to find out that making pasta takes longer than opening a bag of spaghetti.

If you have no issues with flour and you’ve decided the croissant class is the one for you, please be aware that you’ll have to use a rolling pin. There will be visual demonstrations, and you’ll have more success if you quit looking down to take notes while the instructor is demonstrating the best method.

“Roll the dough in a rectangle approximately twenty-six by fourteen inches.”

“Is there a ruler?” The short man at the front workstation asks this after raising his head. He’s still holding the pen he used to write notes on the handout, which contains all the information he just scribbled for five minutes.

Pain au chocolat from my croissant class.
Pain au chocolat from my croissant class.

“Everyone, hold on a minute while we hand out rulers.” Rulers are a bad idea for the Hermione Granger types. They’re so busy measuring dough with the precision required for erecting the Sidney Opera House that they completely miss the next two steps. For those who’ve worked with dough, you know where the class is headed when you hear someone say, “The salt is the white stuff and the yeast is the brown, right?”

If you’re considering a class involving a computer, you should know the basics of opening a web browser. It’s fine for instructors to accept any level of experience, but they should separate novices from those who have actually turned on a computer.

I enrolled in an eight-week class, the topic of which was marketing through social media. There were six students, but never the same ones each week. We introduced ourselves the first night to learn names and share our goals. What I learned is that one woman wanted to market a line of handbags she intended to design even though she’d never designed anything in her life. Typical of someone with the cart before the horse, her next two classes were going to focus on sewing and fashion.

Someone else wanted to market “a series of things” on the Internet. “What things?” asked the instructor. “Some things,” he said. “I’m creating various things and I need to market them through social media.” The instructor prodded. Were they items for sale? Artwork? Software? Images? “No, just things. I don’t want to share my ideas with the group in case someone wants to steal them.” Fine. Keep your things to yourself. We moved on and were told to sign in and bring up a browser window. Mr. Things raised his hand.


“When you say ‘sign in,’ do you mean for us to enter the password?”

“Yes. The one I wrote on the board and mentioned to you earlier.”

“Do I type it into the space marked ‘password’?”

“Exactly.” And so it deteriorated.

At the second session, two students didn’t return, but an inquisitive sixth student appeared, which required an hour to review everything she’d missed. Mr. Things, returned with a shaved head. I have no idea why unless he thought the information wasn’t sinking in with all that hair. The handbag lady announced the discovery of a Facebook account, which she’d created four years ago but had never used because she feared an invasion of privacy.

At the third session, I started viewing my classmates as fellow castaways on a deserted island. We hadn’t yet exhausted the fruits and berries supplied by nature, but I’d decided on the precise order I’d be cooking these people. Mr. Things would be first. He asked fewer questions as the weeks went by, but became increasingly argumentative with the teacher when she explained the illegalities of pirating Kardashian videos. He insisted they had no connection to his things, but he wanted to use them to increase web traffic.

There’s always a Mr. Things to dominate the instructor’s time. He’s been assured there are no dumb questions, and he’s somewhat better than everyone else because he’s brave enough to ask. There are dumb questions, and asking them proves you’re not ready for the course.

I gravitate to courses in which I might have some aptitude. I avoid “Intro to Russian” because I don’t have an ear for the language, nor do I undertake in-depth studies of the Pentateuch. I don’t want to be the person everyone hates because the subject is beyond my understanding or lies outside of my interests. I don’t want to slow people down because I took “Advanced Excel: Creating Pivot Tables” when I can barely type a basic math formula into a single cell.

Drying pasta.
Drying pasta. Watch a video and avoid the drama from people who didn’t know there would be eggs and flour involved.

I will continue to have faith in continuing education, and each time I start a class, I’ll show up believing that my classmates will have selected the course because they have more than a passing curiosity. In a comedy writing class I took last year, a student announced he wanted to learn the mechanics of humor so he might understand humor and know if he was funny or could be. The instructor should have said, “You’re not. You never will be. Here’s your refund.”

© 2015 by Patrick Brown

Visit my author page at http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1 to learn about my books “Moral Ambiguity” and “Tossed Off the Edge.”

3 Replies to “Lessons Learned”

  1. You captured my sentiments exactly! It’s frustrating when you have people like that in your class. You often wonder what planet that came from, it’s obvious they are not from here. Or so it seems. Lesson Learned…..very good!


  2. Hi Patrick..

    I really relate to this post. I think the funniest thing that ever happed in a class was the one I took to learn to write programs for computers. This was in 1980 when there wasn’t much to be found in software….we were pretty much at the beginning of PC’s.

    I talked a friend, her husband and Sandy (my husband) into taking a programing class at LACC. Since none of them knew what was involved, they went for it. I had had experience in computers, so I wasn’t that far out of the loop. In fact as it turned out, I was dead center in the loop and my tag-along friends had no idea what the “loop”was.

    We hit the third week with “lab” work as a separate class all day on a Sunday. My friend, Catherine, who was very domineering and outspoken started the lab session with a question. Her question, after 3 lectures and now a lab session designed to test our skills at programing was, “I want to know which button I push to get my bio-rhythms.” The teachers jaw dropped, but she managed a question to clarify the the request. “What do you mean?” “Well”, my friend replied, “my friend Nancy has a computer and she pushes a button on her computer that gives her her bio-rhythm every day. I want to do the same.” The class fell apart in laughter while her husband (a well known attorney) slowly sank in his chair. The teacher could hardly contain herself, but managed to get through it. This was the final class for Catherine and her husband. As it turned out, neither of them (my husband included) had a clue of what the class was all about. I dragged Sandy to future classes only as a security guard. Those two to three hour sessions were some of his best nap times.

    I pulled a solid A in the class and the teacher recommended that I continue to the next level. I passed on the invitation because “real” software was beginning to appear on the shelves at the computer store. It was a quick fix I could not resist. I am sorry to this day I did not continue.

    The real lesson I learned was not to involve others in my schemes to become more enlightened. I almost lost my friends forever. As it turns out, humiliation has lasting memories.

    Be well and keep on writing. I love your stuff.



    1. Fluff, I’m laughing as I read this. I can picture it all. My classroom adventures are usually solo for the reasons you stated. I’m glad you are enjoying the blog.


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