Land Grab Xyz Homework

First published in Epoch, Fall 1966. Included in Prize Stories: O Henry Award Winners (1968), and The Best American Short Stories (1967).


Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?

By Joyce Carol Oates

for Bob Dylan

Her name was Connie. She was fifteen and she had a quick, nervous giggling habit of craning her neck to glance into mirrors or checking other people’s faces to make sure her own was all right. Her mother, who noticed everything and knew everything and who hadn’t much reason any longer to look at her own face, always scolded Connie about it. “Stop gawking at yourself. Who are you? You think you’re so pretty?” she would say. Connie would raise her eyebrows at these familiar old complaints and look right through her mother, into a shadowy vision of herself as she was right at that moment: she knew she was pretty and that was everything. Her mother had been pretty once too, if you could believe those old snapshots in the album, but now her looks were gone and that was why she was always after Connie.

“Why don’t you keep your room clean like your sister? How’ve you got your hair fixed—what the hell stinks? Hair spray? You don’t see your sister using that junk.”

Her sister June was twenty-four and still lived at home. She was a secretary in the high school Connie attended, and if that wasn’t bad enough—with her in the same building—she was so plain and chunky and steady that Connie had to hear her praised all the time by her mother and her mother’s sisters. June did this, June did that, she saved money and helped clean the house and cookedand Connie couldn’t do a thing, her mind was all filled with trashy daydreams. Their father was away at work most of the time and when he came home he wanted supper and he read the newspaper at supper and after supper he went to bed. He didn’t bother talking much to them, but around his bent head Connie’s mother kept picking at her until Connie wished her mother was dead and she herself was dead and it was all over. “She makes me want to throw up sometimes,” she complained to her friends. She had a high, breathless, amused voice that made everything she said sound a little forced, whether it was sincere or not.

There was one good thing: June went places with girl friends of hers, girls who were just as plain and steady as she, and so when Connie wanted to do that her mother had no objections. The father of Connie’s best girl friend drove the girls the three miles to town and left them at a shopping plaza so they could walk through the stores or go to a movie, and when he came to pick them up again at eleven he never bothered to ask what they had done.

They must have been familiar sights, walking around the shopping plaza in their shorts and flat ballerina slippers that always scuffed the sidewalk, with charm bracelets jingling on their thin wrists; they would lean together to whisper and laugh secretly if someone passed who amused or interested them. Connie had long dark blond hair that drew anyone’s eye to it, and she wore part of it pulled up on her head and puffed out and the rest of it she let fall down her back. She wore a pull-over jersey blouse that looked one way when she was at home and another way when she was away from home. Everything about her had two sides to it, one for home and one for anywhere that was not home: her walk, which could be childlike and bobbing, or languid enough to make anyone think she was hearing music in her head; her mouth, which was pale and smirking most of the time, but bright and pink on these evenings out; her laugh, which was cynical and drawling at home—”Ha, ha, very funny,”—but highpitched and nervous anywhere else, like the jingling of the charms on her bracelet.

Sometimes they did go shopping or to a movie, but sometimes they went across the highway, ducking fast across the busy road, to a drive-in restaurant where older kids hung out. The restaurant was shaped like a big bottle, though squatter than a real bottle, and on its cap was a revolving figure of a grinning boy holding a hamburger aloft. One night in midsummer they ran across, breathless with daring, and right away someone leaned out a car window and invited them over, but it was just a boy from high school they didn’t like. It made them feel good to be able to ignore him. They went up through the maze of parked and cruising cars to the bright-lit, fly-infested restaurant, their faces pleased and expectant as if they were entering a sacred building that loomed up out of the night to give them what haven and blessing they yearned for. They sat at the counter and crossed their legs at the ankles, their thin shoulders rigid with excitement, and listened to the music that made everything so good: the music was always in the background, like music at a church service; it was something to depend upon.

A boy named Eddie came in to talk with them. He sat backwards on his stool, turning himself jerkily around in semicircles and then stopping and turning back again, and after a while he asked Connie if she would like something to eat. She said she would and so she tapped her friend’s arm on her way out—her friend pulled her face up into a brave, droll look—and Connie said she would meet her at eleven, across the way. “I just hate to leave her like that,” Connie said earnestly, but the boy said that she wouldn’t be alone for long. So they went out to his car, and on the way Connie couldn’t help but let her eyes wander over the windshields and faces all around her, her face gleaming with a joy that had nothing to do with Eddie or even this place; it might have been the music. She drew her shoulders up and sucked in her breath with the pure pleasure of being alive, and just at that moment she happened to glance at a face just a few feet from hers. It was a boy with shaggy black hair, in a convertible jalopy painted gold. He stared at her and then his lips widened into a grin. Connie slit her eyes at him and turned away, but she couldn’t help glancing back and there he was, still watching her. He wagged a finger and laughed and said, “Gonna get you, baby,” and Connie turned away again without Eddie noticing anything.

She spent three hours with him, at the restaurant where they ate hamburgers and drank Cokes in wax cups that were always sweating, and then down an alley a mile or so away, and when he left her off at five to eleven only the movie house was still open at the plaza. Her girl friend was there, talking with a boy. When Connie came up, the two girls smiled at each other and Connie said, “How was the movie?” and the girl said, ‘You should know.” They rode off with the girl’s father, sleepy and pleased, and Connie couldn’t help but look back at the darkened shopping plaza with its big empty parking lot and its signs that were faded and ghostly now, and over at the drive-in restaurant where cars were still circling tirelessly. She couldn’t hear the music at this distance.

Next morning June asked her how the movie was and Connie said, “So-so.”

She and that girl and occasionally another girl went out several times a week, and the rest of the time Connie spent around the house—it was summer vacation—getting in her mother s way and thinking, dreaming about the boys she met. But all the boys fell back and dissolved into a single face that was not even a face but an idea, a feeling, mixed up with the urgent insistent pounding of the music and the humid night air of July. Connie’s mother kept dragging her back to the daylight by finding things for her to do or saying suddenly, ‘What’s this about the Pettinger girl?”

And Connie would say nervously, “Oh, her. That dope.” She always drew thick clear lines between herself and such girls, and her mother was simple and kind enough to believe it. Her mother was so simple, Connie thought, that it was maybe cruel to fool her so much. Her mother went scuffling around the house in old bedroom slippers and complained over the telephone to one sister about the other, then the other called up and the two of them complained about the third one. If June’s name was mentioned her mother’s tone was approving, and if Connie’s name was mentioned it was disapproving. This did not really mean she disliked Connie, and actually Connie thought that her mother preferred her to June just because she was prettier, but the two of them kept up a pretense of exasperation, a sense that they were tugging and struggling over something of little value to either of them. Sometimes, over coffee, they were almost friends, but something would come up—some vexation that was like a fly buzzing suddenly around their heads—and their faces went hard with contempt.

One Sunday Connie got up at eleven—none of them bothered with church—and washed her hair so that it could dry all day long in the sun. Her parents and sister were going to a barbecue at an aunt’s house and Connie said no, she wasn’t interested, rolling her eyes to let her mother know just what she thought of it. “Stay home alone then,” her mother said sharply. Connie sat out back in a lawn chair and watched them drive away, her father quiet and bald, hunched around so that he could back the car out, her mother with a look that was still angry and not at all softened through the windshield, and in the back seat poor old June, all dressed up as if she didn’t know what a barbecue was, with all the running yelling kids and the flies. Connie sat with her eyes closed in the sun, dreaming and dazed with the warmth about her as if this were a kind of love, the caresses of love, and her mind slipped over onto thoughts of the boy she had been with the night before and how nice he had been, how sweet it always was, not the way someone like June would suppose but sweet, gentle, the way it was in movies and promised in songs; and when she opened her eyes she hardly knew where she was, the back yard ran off into weeds and a fence-like line of trees and behind it the sky was perfectly blue and still. The asbestos ranch house that was now three years old startled her—it looked small. She shook her head as if to get awake.

It was too hot. She went inside the house and turned on the radio to drown out the quiet. She sat on the edge of her bed, barefoot, and listened for an hour and a half to a program called XYZ Sunday Jamboree, record after record of hard, fast, shrieking songs she sang along with, interspersed by exclamations from “Bobby King”: “An’ look here, you girls at Napoleon’s—Son and Charley want you to pay real close attention to this song coming up!”

And Connie paid close attention herself, bathed in a glow of slow-pulsed joy that seemed to rise mysteriously out of the music itself and lay languidly about the airless little room, breathed in and breathed out with each gentle rise and fall of her chest.

After a while she heard a car coming up the drive. She sat up at once, startled, because it couldn’t be her father so soon. The gravel kept crunching all the way in from the road—the driveway was long—and Connie ran to the window. It was a car she didn’t know. It was an open jalopy, painted a bright gold that caught the sunlight opaquely. Her heart began to pound and her fingers snatched at her hair, checking it, and she whispered, “Christ. Christ,” wondering how bad she looked. The car came to a stop at the side door and the horn sounded four short taps, as if this were a signal Connie knew.

She went into the kitchen and approached the door slowly, then hung out the screen door, her bare toes curling down off the step. There were two boys in the car and now she recognized the driver: he had shaggy, shabby black hair that looked crazy as a wig and he was grinning at her.

“I ain’t late, am I?” he said.

“Who the hell do you think you are?” Connie said.

“Toldja I’d be out, didn’t I?”

“I don’t even know who you are.”

She spoke sullenly, careful to show no interest or pleasure, and he spoke in a fast, bright monotone. Connie looked past him to the other boy, taking her time. He had fair brown hair, with a lock that fell onto his forehead. His sideburns gave him a fierce, embarrassed look, but so far he hadn’t even bothered to glance at her. Both boys wore sunglasses. The driver’s glasses were metallic and mirrored everything in miniature.

“You wanta come for a ride?” he said.

Connie smirked and let her hair fall loose over one shoulder.

“Don’tcha like my car? New paint job,” he said. “Hey.”

“What?”

“You’re cute.”

She pretended to fidget, chasing flies away from the door.

“Don’tcha believe me, or what?” he said.

“Look, I don’t even know who you are,” Connie said in disgust.

“Hey, Ellie’s got a radio, see. Mine broke down.” He lifted his friend’s arm and showed her the little transistor radio the boy was holding, and now Connie began to hear the music. It was the same program that was playing inside the house.

“Bobby King?” she said.

“I listen to him all the time. I think he’s great.”

“He’s kind of great,” Connie said reluctantly.

“Listen, that guy’s great. He knows where the action is.”

Connie blushed a little, because the glasses made it impossible for her to see just what this boy was looking at. She couldn’t decide if she liked him or if he was just a jerk, and so she dawdled in the doorway and wouldn’t come down or go back inside. She said, “What’s all that stuff painted on your car?”

“Can’tcha read it?” He opened the door very carefully, as if he were afraid it might fall off. He slid out just as carefully, planting his feet firmly on the ground, the tiny metallic world in his glasses slowing down like gelatine hardening, and in the midst of it Connie’s bright green blouse. “This here is my name, to begin with, he said. ARNOLD FRIEND was written in tarlike black letters on the side, with a drawing of a round, grinning face that reminded Connie of a pumpkin, except it wore sunglasses. “I wanta introduce myself, I’m Arnold Friend and that’s my real name and I’m gonna be your friend, honey, and inside the car’s Ellie Oscar, he’s kinda shy.” Ellie brought his transistor radio up to his shoulder and balanced it there. “Now, these numbers are a secret code, honey,” Arnold Friend explained. He read off the numbers 33, 19, 17 and raised his eyebrows at her to see what she thought of that, but she didn’t think much of it. The left rear fender had been smashed and around it was written, on the gleaming gold background: DONE BY CRAZY WOMAN DRIVER. Connie had to laugh at that. Arnold Friend was pleased at her laughter and looked up at her. “Around the other side’s a lot more —you wanta come and see them?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Why should I?”

“Don’tcha wanta see what’s on the car? Don’tcha wanta go for a ride?”

“I don’t know.”

“Why not?”

“I got things to do.”

“Like what?”

“Things.”

He laughed as if she had said something funny. He slapped his thighs. He was standing in a strange way, leaning back against the car as if he were balancing himself. He wasn’t tall, only an inch or so taller than she would be if she came down to him. Connie liked the way he was dressed, which was the way all of them dressed: tight faded jeans stuffed into black, scuffed boots, a belt that pulled his waist in and showed how lean he was, and a white pull-over shirt that was a little soiled and showed the hard small muscles of his arms and shoulders. He looked as if he probably did hard work, lifting and carrying things. Even his neck looked muscular. And his face was a familiar face, somehow: the jaw and chin and cheeks slightly darkened because he hadn’t shaved for a day or two, and the nose long and hawklike, sniffing as if she were a treat he was going to gobble up and it was all a joke.

“Connie, you ain’t telling the truth. This is your day set aside for a ride with me and you know it,” he said, still laughing. The way he straightened and recovered from his fit of laughing showed that it had been all fake.

“How do you know what my name is?” she said suspiciously.

“It’s Connie.”

“Maybe and maybe not.”

“I know my Connie,” he said, wagging his finger. Now she remembered him even better, back at the restaurant, and her cheeks warmed at the thought of how she had sucked in her breath just at the moment she passed him—how she must have looked to him. And he had remembered her. “Ellie and I come out here especially for you,” he said. “Ellie can sit in back. How about it?”

“Where?”

“Where what?”

“Where’re we going?”

He looked at her. He took off the sunglasses and she saw how pale the skin around his eyes was, like holes that were not in shadow but instead in light. His eyes were like chips of broken glass that catch the light in an amiable way. He smiled. It was as if the idea of going for a ride somewhere, to someplace, was a new idea to him.

“Just for a ride, Connie sweetheart.”

“I never said my name was Connie,” she said.

“But I know what it is. I know your name and all about you, lots of things,” Arnold Friend said. He had not moved yet but stood still leaning back against the side of his jalopy. “I took a special interest in you, such a pretty girl, and found out all about you—like I know your parents and sister are gone somewheres and I know where and how long they’re going to be gone, and I know who you were with last night, and your best girl friend’s name is Betty. Right?”

He spoke in a simple lilting voice, exactly as if he were reciting the words to a song. His smile assured her that everything was fine. In the car Ellie turned up the volume on his radio and did not bother to look around at them.

“Ellie can sit in the back seat,” Arnold Friend said. He indicated his friend with a casual jerk of his chin, as if Ellie did not count and she should not bother with him.

“How’d you find out all that stuff?” Connie said.

“Listen: Betty Schultz and Tony Fitch and Jimmy Pettinger and Nancy Pettinger,” he said in a chant. “Raymond Stanley and Bob Hutter—”

“Do you know all those kids?”

“I know everybody.”

“Look, you’re kidding. You’re not from around here.”

“Sure.”

“But—how come we never saw you before?”

“Sure you saw me before,” he said. He looked down at his boots, as if he were a little offended. “You just don’t remember.”

“I guess I’d remember you,” Connie said.

“Yeah?” He looked up at this, beaming. He was pleased. He began to mark time with the music from Ellie’s radio, tapping his fists lightly together. Connie looked away from his smile to the car, which was painted so bright it almost hurt her eyes to look at it. She looked at that name, ARNOLD FRIEND. And up at the front fender was an expression that was familiar—MAN THE FLYING SAUCERS. It was an expression kids had used the year before but didn’t use this year. She looked at it for a while as if the words meant something to her that she did not yet know.

“What’re you thinking about? Huh?” Arnold Friend demanded. “Not worried about your hair blowing around in the car, are you?”

“No.”

“Think I maybe can’t drive good?”

“How do I know?”

“You’re a hard girl to handle. How come?” he said. “Don’t you know I’m your friend? Didn’t you see me put my sign in the air when you walked by?”

“What sign?”

“My sign.” And he drew an X in the air, leaning out toward her. They were maybe ten feet apart. After his hand fell back to his side the X was still in the air, almost visible. Connie let the screen door close and stood perfectly still inside it, listening to the music from her radio and the boy’s blend together. She stared at Arnold Friend. He stood there so stiffly relaxed, pretending to be relaxed, with one hand idly on the door handle as if he were keeping himself up that way and had no intention of ever moving again. She recognized most things about him, the tight jeans that showed his thighs and buttocks and the greasy leather boots and the tight shirt, and even that slippery friendly smile of his, that sleepy dreamy smile that all the boys used to get across ideas they didn’t want to put into words. She recognized all this and also the singsong way he talked, slightly mocking, kidding, but serious and a little melancholy, and she recognized the way he tapped one fist against the other in homage to the perpetual music behind him. But all these things did not come together.

She said suddenly, “Hey, how old are you?”

His smiled faded. She could see then that he wasn’t a kid, he was much older—thirty, maybe more. At this knowledge her heart began to pound faster.

“That’s a crazy thing to ask. Can’tcha see I’m your own age?”

“Like hell you are.”

“Or maybe a couple years older. I’m eighteen.”

“Eighteen?” she said doubtfully.

He grinned to reassure her and lines appeared at the corners of his mouth. His teeth were big and white. He grinned so broadly his eyes became slits and she saw how thick the lashes were, thick and black as if painted with a black tarlike material. Then, abruptly, he seemed to become embarrassed and looked over his shoulder at Ellie. “Him, he’s crazy,” he said. “Ain’t he a riot? He’s a nut, a real character.” Ellie was still listening to the music. His sunglasses told nothing about what he was thinking. He wore a bright orange shirt unbuttoned halfway to show his chest, which was a pale, bluish chest and not muscular like Arnold Friend’s. His shirt collar was turned up all around and the very tips of the collar pointed out past his chin as if they were protecting him. He was pressing the transistor radio up against his ear and sat there in a kind of daze, right in the sun.

“He’s kinda strange,” Connie said.

“Hey, she says you’re kinda strange! Kinda strange!” Arnold Friend cried. He pounded on the car to get Ellie’s attention. Ellie turned for the first time and Connie saw with shock that he wasn’t a kid either—he had a fair, hairless face, cheeks reddened slightly as if the veins grew too close to the surface of his skin, the face of a forty-year-old baby. Connie felt a wave of dizziness rise in her at this sight and she stared at him as if waiting for something to change the shock of the moment, make it all right again. Ellie’s lips kept shaping words, mumbling along with the words blasting in his ear.

“Maybe you two better go away,” Connie said faintly.

“What? How come?” Arnold Friend cried. “We come out here to take you for a ride. It’s Sunday.” He had the voice of the man on the radio now. It was the same voice, Connie thought. “Don’tcha know it’s Sunday all day? And honey, no matter who you were with last night, today you’re with Arnold Friend and don’t you forget it! Maybe you better step out here,” he said, and this last was in a different voice. It was a little flatter, as if the heat was finally getting to him.

“No. I got things to do.”

“Hey.”

“You two better leave.”

“We ain’t leaving until you come with us.”

“Like hell I am—”

“Connie, don’t fool around with me. I mean—I mean, don’t fool around,” he said, shaking his head. He laughed incredulously. He placed his sunglasses on top of his head, carefully, as if he were indeed wearing a wig, and brought the stems down behind his ears. Connie stared at him, another wave of dizziness and fear rising in her so that for a moment he wasn’t even in focus but was just a blur standing there against his gold car, and she had the idea that he had driven up the driveway all right but had come from nowhere before that and belonged nowhere and that everything about him and even about the music that was so familiar to her was only half real.

“If my father comes and sees you—”

“He ain’t coming. He’s at a barbecue.”

“How do you know that?”

“Aunt Tillie’s. Right now they’re uh—they’re drinking. Sitting around,” he said vaguely, squinting as if he were staring all the way to town and over to Aunt Tillie’s back yard. Then the vision seemed to get clear and he nodded energetically. “Yeah. Sitting around. There’s your sister in a blue dress, huh? And high heels, the poor sad bitch—nothing like you, sweetheart! And your mother’s helping some fat woman with the corn, they’re cleaning the corn—husking the corn—”

“What fat woman?” Connie cried.

“How do I know what fat woman, I don’t know every goddamn fat woman in the world!” Arnold Friend laughed.

“Oh, that’s Mrs. Hornsby . . . . Who invited her?” Connie said. She felt a little lightheaded. Her breath was coming quickly.

“She’s too fat. I don’t like them fat. I like them the way you are, honey,” he said, smiling sleepily at her. They stared at each other for a while through the screen door. He said softly, “Now, what you’re going to do is this: you’re going to come out that door. You re going to sit up front with me and Ellie’s going to sit in the back, the hell with Ellie, right? This isn’t Ellie’s date. You’re my date. I’m your lover, honey.”

“What? You’re crazy—”

“Yes, I’m your lover. You don’t know what that is but you will,” he said. “I know that too. I know all about you. But look: it’s real nice and you couldn’t ask for nobody better than me, or more polite. I always keep my word. I’ll tell you how it is, I’m always nice at first, the first time. I’ll hold you so tight you won’t think you have to try to get away or pretend anything because you’ll know you can’t. And I’ll come inside you where it’s all secret and you’ll give in to me and you’ll love me ”

“Shut up! You’re crazy!” Connie said. She backed away from the door. She put her hands up against her ears as if she’d heard something terrible, something not meant for her. “People don’t talk like that, you’re crazy,” she muttered. Her heart was almost too big now for her chest and its pumping made sweat break out all over her. She looked out to see Arnold Friend pause and then take a step toward the porch, lurching. He almost fell. But, like a clever drunken man, he managed to catch his balance. He wobbled in his high boots and grabbed hold of one of the porch posts.

“Honey?” he said. “You still listening?”

“Get the hell out of here!”

“Be nice, honey. Listen.”

“I’m going to call the police—”

He wobbled again and out of the side of his mouth came a fast spat curse, an aside not meant for her to hear. But even this “Christ!” sounded forced. Then he began to smile again. She watched this smile come, awkward as if he were smiling from inside a mask. His whole face was a mask, she thought wildly, tanned down to his throat but then running out as if he had plastered make-up on his face but had forgotten about his throat.

“Honey—? Listen, here’s how it is. I always tell the truth and I promise you this: I ain’t coming in that house after you.”

“You better not! I’m going to call the police if you—if you don’t—”

“Honey,” he said, talking right through her voice, “honey, I m not coming in there but you are coming out here. You know why?”

She was panting. The kitchen looked like a place she had never seen before, some room she had run inside but that wasn’t good enough, wasn’t going to help her. The kitchen window had never had a curtain, after three years, and there were dishes in the sink for her to do—probably—and if you ran your hand across the table you’d probably feel something sticky there.

“You listening, honey? Hey?” “—going to call the police—”

“Soon as you touch the phone I don’t need to keep my promise and can come inside. You won’t want that.”

She rushed forward and tried to lock the door. Her fingers were shaking. “But why lock it,” Arnold Friend said gently, talking right into her face. “It’s just a screen door. It’s just nothing.” One of his boots was at a strange angle, as if his foot wasn’t in it. It pointed out to the left, bent at the ankle. “I mean, anybody can break through a screen door and glass and wood and iron or anything else if he needs to, anybody at all, and specially Arnold Friend. If the place got lit up with a fire, honey, you’d come runnin’ out into my arms, right into my arms an’ safe at home—like you knew I was your lover and’d stopped fooling around. I don’t mind a nice shy girl but I don’t like no fooling around.” Part of those words were spoken with a slight rhythmic lilt, and Connie somehow recognized them—the echo of a song from last year, about a girl rushing into her boy friend’s arms and coming home again—

Connie stood barefoot on the linoleum floor, staring at him. “What do you want?” she whispered.

“I want you,” he said.

“What?”

“Seen you that night and thought, that’s the one, yes sir. I never needed to look anymore.”

“But my father’s coming back. He’s coming to get me. I had to wash my hair first—” She spoke in a dry, rapid voice, hardly raising it for him to hear.

“No, your daddy is not coming and yes, you had to wash your hair and you washed it for me. It’s nice and shining and all for me. I thank you sweetheart,” he said with a mock bow, but again he almost lost his balance. He had to bend and adjust his boots. Evidently his feet did not go all the way down; the boots must have been stuffed with something so that he would seem taller. Connie stared out at him and behind him at Ellie in the car, who seemed to be looking off toward Connie’s right, into nothing. This Ellie said, pulling the words out of the air one after another as if he were just discovering them, “You want me to pull out the phone?”

“Shut your mouth and keep it shut,” Arnold Friend said, his face red from bending over or maybe from embarrassment because Connie had seen his boots. “This ain’t none of your business.”

“What—what are you doing? What do you want?” Connie said. “If I call the police they’ll get you, they’ll arrest you—”

“Promise was not to come in unless you touch that phone, and I’ll keep that promise,” he said. He resumed his erect position and tried to force his shoulders back. He sounded like a hero in a movie, declaring something important. But he spoke too loudly and it was as if he were speaking to someone behind Connie. “I ain’t made plans for coming in that house where I don’t belong but just for you to come out to me, the way you should. Don’t you know who I am?”

“You’re crazy,” she whispered. She backed away from the door but did not want to go into another part of the house, as if this would give him permission to come through the door. “What do you . . . you’re crazy, you. . . .”

“Huh? What’re you saying, honey?”

Her eyes darted everywhere in the kitchen. She could not remember what it was, this room.

“This is how it is, honey: you come out and we’ll drive away, have a nice ride. But if you don’t come out we’re gonna wait till your people come home and then they’re all going to get it.”

“You want that telephone pulled out?” Ellie said. He held the radio away from his ear and grimaced, as if without the radio the air was too much for him.

“I toldja shut up, Ellie,” Arnold Friend said, “you’re deaf, get a hearing aid, right? Fix yourself up. This little girl’s no trouble and’s gonna be nice to me, so Ellie keep to yourself, this ain’t your date right? Don’t hem in on me, don’t hog, don’t crush, don’t bird dog, don’t trail me,” he said in a rapid, meaningless voice, as if he were running through all the expressions he’d learned but was no longer sure which of them was in style, then rushing on to new ones, making them up with his eyes closed. “Don’t crawl under my fence, don’t squeeze in my chipmonk hole, don’t sniff my glue, suck my popsicle, keep your own greasy fingers on yourself!” He shaded his eyes and peered in at Connie, who was backed against the kitchen table. “Don’t mind him, honey, he’s just a creep. He’s a dope. Right? I’m the boy for you, and like I said, you come out here nice like a lady and give me your hand, and nobody else gets hurt, I mean, your nice old bald-headed daddy and your mummy and your sister in her high heels. Because listen: why bring them in this?”

“Leave me alone,” Connie whispered.

“Hey, you know that old woman down the road, the one with the chickens and stuff—you know her?”

“She’s dead!”

“Dead? What? You know her?” Arnold Friend said.

“She’s dead—”

“Don’t you like her?”

“She’s dead—she’s—she isn’t here any more—”

But don’t you like her, I mean, you got something against her? Some grudge or something?” Then his voice dipped as if he were conscious of a rudeness. He touched the sunglasses perched up on top of his head as if to make sure they were still there. “Now, you be a good girl.”

‘What are you going to do?”

“Just two things, or maybe three,” Arnold Friend said. “But I promise it won’t last long and you’ll like me the way you get to like people you’re close to. You will. It’s all over for you here, so come on out. You don’t want your people in any trouble, do you?”

She turned and bumped against a chair or something, hurting her leg, but she ran into the back room and picked up the telephone. Something roared in her ear, a tiny roaring, and she was so sick with fear that she could do nothing but listen to it—the telephone was clammy and very heavy and her fingers groped down to the dial but were too weak to touch it. She began to scream into the phone, into the roaring. She cried out, she cried for her mother, she felt her breath start jerking back and forth in her lungs as if it were something Arnold Friend was stabbing her with again and again with no tenderness. A noisy sorrowful wailing rose all about her and she was locked inside it the way she was locked inside this house.

After a while she could hear again. She was sitting on the floor with her wet back against the wall.

Arnold Friend was saying from the door, “That’s a good girl. Put the phone back.”

She kicked the phone away from her.

“No, honey. Pick it up. Put it back right.”

She picked it up and put it back. The dial tone stopped.

“That’s a good girl. Now, you come outside.”

She was hollow with what had been fear but what was now just an emptiness. All that screaming had blasted it out of her. She sat, one leg cramped under her, and deep inside her brain was something like a pinpoint of light that kept going and would not let her relax. She thought, I’m not going to see my mother again. She thought, I’m not going to sleep in my bed again. Her bright green blouse was all wet.

Arnold Friend said, in a gentle-loud voice that was like a stage voice, “The place where you came from ain’t there any more, and where you had in mind to go is cancelled out. This place you are now—inside your daddy’s house—is nothing but a cardboard box I can knock down any time. You know that and always did know it. You hear me?”

She thought, I have got to think. I have got to know what to do.

“We’ll go out to a nice field, out in the country here where it smells so nice and it’s sunny,” Arnold Friend said. “I’ll have my arms tight around you so you won’t need to try to get away and I’ll show you what love is like, what it does. The hell with this house! It looks solid all right,” he said. He ran a fingernail down the screen and the noise did not make Connie shiver, as it would have the day before. “Now, put your hand on your heart, honey. Feel that? That feels solid too but we know better. Be nice to me, be sweet like you can because what else is there for a girl like you but to be sweet and pretty and give in?—and get away before her people come back?”

She felt her pounding heart. Her hand seemed to enclose it. She thought for the first time in her life that it was nothing that was hers, that belonged to her, but just a pounding, living thing inside this body that wasn’t really hers either.

“You don’t want them to get hurt,” Arnold Friend went on. “Now, get up, honey. Get up all by yourself.”

She stood.

“Now, turn this way. That’s right. Come over here to me.—Ellie, put that away, didn’t I tell you? You dope. You miserable creepy dope,” Arnold Friend said. His words were not angry but only part of an incantation. The incantation was kindly. “Now come out through the kitchen to me, honey, and let’s see a smile, try it, you’re a brave, sweet little girl and now they’re eating corn and hot dogs cooked to bursting over an outdoor fire, and they don’t know one thing about you and never did and honey, you’re better than them because not a one of them would have done this for you.”

Connie felt the linoleum under her feet; it was cool. She brushed her hair back out of her eyes. Arnold Friend let go of the post tentatively and opened his arms for her, his elbows pointing in toward each other and his wrists limp, to show that this was an embarrassed embrace and a little mocking, he didn’t want to make her self-conscious.

She put out her hand against the screen. She watched herself push the door slowly open as if she were back safe somewhere in the other doorway, watching this body and this head of long hair moving out into the sunlight where Arnold Friend waited.

“My sweet little blue-eyed girl,” he said in a half-sung sigh that had nothing to do with her brown eyes but was taken up just the same by the vast sunlit reaches of the land behind him and on all sides of him—so much land that Connie had never seen before and did not recognize except to know that she was going to it.

*


Image: Beata Beatrix, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
“Rossetti intended to represent her, not at the moment of death, but transformed by a ‘sudden spiritual transfiguration'”—Frances Fowle


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My reflection                 Appendix I: the complete physics course is available online              

Appendix II: Teaching Philosophy

“Prof. Voroshilov, I’m at a loss for words to express my gratitude. In all of my years of school, from elementary, into high school, and through college, I have been blessed with top-notch teachers. But I’m pretty sure you take the cake. I was originally debating between taking physics at Harvard or BU, and all the signs pointed to BU. Honestly, I kind of think it was fate. I am not sure if it was just a good student – teacher match, but I thoroughly enjoined your lectures. You have an uncanny ability to present material, and it’s pretty clear (to me, at least) how much effort you put into your work as a teacher.”

“Thank you, thank you, thank you! Mr. V, thank you for putting up with all of us this summer!! I feel much more prepared for the MCAT. And I loved the demonstrations! Thanks for putting all the time + effort!”

“Professor V, You designed this class so that those who put in the effort would succeed, so I gave it my all and sure enough.

I want to say thank you for creating such a conducive learning environment for me to succeed. I hadn't taken a physics class since my freshman year in high school, so I was very nervous going into your class. I did not expect this course to become my favorite science course so far at BU. Physics is a hard subject, but you explained everything well and made sure we, as a class, had the tools necessary to succeed with enough hard work on our end.”

“Professor Voroshilov is great – he explains concepts very well, and makes great use of clicker questions, demos, etc. Prof. Voroshilov also uses powerpoint, transparencies, videos, cameras, tablets, etc. very creatively and effectively to reinforce material from lecture.”

“I didn’t like physics before taking this class and now it’s one of my favorite classes.”

“Best physics professor here, only one who cares if students are learning the material. Proves you don’t need a PhD in physics to teach this class. PhD in education is much more effective.”

“Makes concept sound simple.”

“If I could give a 10 for Dr. Voroshilov, I would. Excellent teacher. Makes physics fun (which is a very hard thing).

“I love Mr. V.”

“Dr. V is a great professor. Cares about physics and his students.”

“Loved Dr. V. Wish he taught during the school year as well.”

“Fantastic teacher.”

“Make you work if you want to do well.”

“It’s a generally really cool course.”

“Mr. V was by far the best professor I have ever had at BU. I wish he taught through the school year. He is always enthusiastic, explains topics well, and has great models. I don’t think any other science teacher at BU can match up to him.”

“Fantastic instructor. My favorite science professor I’ve ever had. Amazing at making even the most difficult or boring subjects interesting and fun. Absolutely hilarious. Won’t take physics if not with him. Just needs neater handwriting.”

“He is a master. He knows his material. He wants to help. That’s all I can expect from a teacher. He is great.”

“He tends to challenge us by truly assessing which of my aspects are flawed.”

“He’s great. One of the best instructors I’ve had at BU.”

“He really makes the class enjoyable.”

“Professor V is an excellent professor and by far my favorite I have had in my three years at BU. It would be a delight to have him teaching here during the school year as well.”

“He is a master. I think all professor should be able to teach as him. That way students would not have to spend hours reading off of lectures.”

“I can honestly say I had never seen a professor who cared more for his students and how they do, as well as what they learn.”

“Best teacher I’ve had, bar none.”

“Explains things in a way that can be understood – explains why we care. Great and interesting demos. One of the best science professors I’ve had at BU. Actually wants us to do well. Lear expectations.”

“Val was a breath of fresh air after CH109 and 110. Great lecturer; I almost became a physics major because of Val (and the TFs, too). Explains well, is nice, has great presentation.”

“Incredible instructor; best one I’ve ever had at BU. He above puts the chemistry department to shame in how thorough and passionate his lectures are. I would change to a physics major or minor if he taught every class.”

“The examples were very thorough and thought-provoking. The demos were interesting and made of material more applicable to real-life scenarios.”

“Punctual, respectful of class end-time (much appreciated). Extremely knowledgeable about content, very effective at braking things down to digestive pieces, and presenting it in a logical, glowing manner. Highly engaging demonstrations. Great use of tools/props. Good energy (especially for a 9 am class). Professor Voroshilov has a very matter-of-fact/this-is-so obvious aspect to some of his statements, which I personally like, but could be discouraging to some students. If that’s just his personality, then I’m not saying he should change it, just be mindful of how others might perceive it.”

“Amazing professor. Waited for the summer so I could take PY105 and PY106 with him. Funny in his way and very fair. Always helpful. Would only take this class with him.”

“I think he is very relatable and very funny. I think he genuinely wants people who are willing to work to do well. He is very fair with his grading policy. Many students who complain about him are just taking advantage of him to begin with, and are being unfair to him.”

“The professor explains the concepts very well although of the language barrier, and he tries his hardest for students to understand, he grades the exams fairly.”

“Prof. Voroshilov is very good at what he teaches, his slides are dense and helpful. Prof. Voroshilov is entertaining and teaches well. Prof. Voroshilov is awesome!”

“Prof. Voroshilov is always extremely prepared for lectures. Excellent lecture slides, demos and PRS questions, online class site and resources are excellent and helpful.”

“I appreciated your sarcasm and the way you were teaching us to be very specific with our question because this helped me to become better with my analytical skills.”

“Very enthusiastic and approachable. Genuinely cares about his students. Best professor at BU.”

“Very smart and very funny. Physics is hard but Val made the experience more enjoyable. He’s great. No need to change”

“Great teaching style, and encourages thinking.”

“Russian spy. Knows his stuff.”

“I really enjoyed taking Prof. Val and would definitely sign up to take another one of his course. You can tell he wants his students to understand and do well.”

“Awesome guy. Loved being in his class.”

“Mr. V is awesome. I love his humor and he’s very good at explaining concepts clearly.”

“I love professor Voroshilov. His dry humor is a perfect cherry on top of this course.”

“Weirdly funny. Teaches clearly. Russian.”

“He always asks if we have questions: enthusiastic. Too awesome!”

“I really like Professor Voroshilov. I think he is great at explaining concepts and is very underrated. Very helpful in office hours”.

“The course’s workload gave me the ability to learn a vast amount of material in just a little time: most of science courses do not do that. The professor was approachable, friendly and was willing to spend much more time out of class than most for explaining topics.”

“The webassignhomeworks were mostly helpful and the course gives AMPLE opportunity to get a decent grade.”

“The course’s exams were fair and often tested all the material learned in class. The homework, especially webassign helped prepare for the exams.”

“The professor is a lovely person. Friendly and eager to help”.

“He can explain concepts really well. Brings in humor to make class more interesting”.

“Good professor, I am not naturally good at physics, but he explains things well”.

“The homework and discussions helped me learn the material. The professor was energetic and happy to help us learn.”

“Shows a strong willingness to help students and meet their needs”.

“Availability outside class, always willing to answer questions”.

“Much opportunity to get help and improve”.

“Very knowledgeable and helpful.”

“Homework is relevant”.

“Good demos.”

“I really enjoyed the course and webassign, homework was helpful”.

“Explains concepts thoroughly”.

“Funny, explains concepts well.”

“Instructor was organized and prepared for the lecture.”

“Explains concepts slowly so easy to understand, great having slides online for reference, in class examples and experiments.”

“The course is very organized and the Web CT content is very useful. The professor is dedicated and explains concepts well.”

“Very good lecturer, extremely helpful during office hours.”

“I really liked Dr. Voroshilov and think he does a good job of explaining the material and does lots of demonstrations that make class more interesting.”

“Very detailed powerpoints – they were very helpful in studying for tests and doing homework.”

“Very nice man, very fair.”

“Good objective grading.”

“Labs are quick, easy and to the point. Homework is generally representative of exams, usually is relevant to material. Discussion is helpful. I like the webassign system.”

“Professor knew material well and was helpful in office hours. Labs were fair, even though I hate labs.”

“Instructor Voroshilov is pretty good at explaining concepts. He’s very funny which keeps people awake at 8 am. His powerpoint presentations are very thorough and helpful.”

“Fair grading, good TAs, relevant reading, and helpful, accessible labs.”

“Helped to understand how physics is a part of everyday life. The instructor really knew his stuff, and his demonstrations were great.”

“Lots of visual aids to help understanding. The professor is good and funny.”

“I thought he was well organized and explained the concepts well. His emphasis on doing examples in class was very helpful! He is also pretty funny when he wants to be, which is much appreciated at 8 am while trying to learn physics. I found the professor, course and material so much more interesting then PY105!!”

“Very helpful. Wants us to succeed!”

“He experiments with methods to be more effective, very creative, very interesting and straight-forward.”

“The professor really enjoys the subject and has fun teaching – good demos.”

“Professor Val is very effective in teaching concepts, especially because it’s obvious he put a lot of work into it, in terms of visual aids and notes. Very good professor, always available and helpful to students.”

“He knows what he is talking about.”

“Always available and willing to stay beyond posted office hours. Entertaining lectures, effective teaching style, approachable.”

“Wants us to do well in class.”

“Grading is fair.”

“He is an intelligent man.”

“I couldn’t have asked for a better physics professor.”

“His demonstrations are awesome.”

“Loves teaching. Gives great examples and demonstrations in class.”

“Hands down, one of the best professors I had at BU. Great humor, makes physics very fun and exciting to learn, and has fair examinations and grading policies. Great presentation skills.”

“Great instructor – knows concepts well, and can grab our attention and keep it.”

“Very fair exams and homework.”

“The instructor is awesome with technology. He uses it as a very helpful tool in ways other teachers haven’t or can’t.”

“Great instructor – really helps me to understand concepts I am confused about.”

“Good lecturer. Knowledgeable. Better than …..”

 “Very clear and reasonable expectations.”

“Lab is helpful in understanding material.”

“Much material covered in a manageable manner.”

“Tests were straightforward and expected.”

“Very straightforward, no surprises, and everything he did was relevant to the exams.”

“Good pace for amount of material.”

“The homework and exams were similar so studying was well rewarded.”

“Great class – keep it up.”

“Professor V is great and during class his introduction is most helpful.”

“Amount of homework was good. Just the right amount to grasp/solidify material.”

“Fast, but well taught course.”

“He is able to present a lot of questions that are likely to be present on the exam and he goes over it well.”

“Teaching is clear and concise. Examples on lecture slides are for homework. Demonstrations are cool and help cement concepts.”

“Very effective at explaining concepts.”

“Clear explanations, very good lecturer, nice.”

“Hard class made somewhat easier or more manageable because of Mr. V.”

“Very easy to understand and grasp concepts (even at the faster pace).”

“Straightforward course.”

“Good pace and good amount of time introducing every topic.”

“Challenging course. Covers all necessary topics.”

“Learn a lot in a very short time, but definitely able to master material and comfortable in physics.”

“Lectures were interesting, exams were decent, and homework helped a lot.”

“Summer course is fast paced, but worth taking with Mr. V.”

“Super easy course.”

“Course is challenging but not anything impossible.”

“Tests are extremely fair. Homework and textbook are very helpful.”

“He explains things clearly and labs are helpful.”

“I thought the test were extremely fair. I liked the problems taught and I thought the material on the tests was covered in class.”

“Physics is fun due to this class.”

“Very good. Not difficult for someone not good at math.”

“Teaches what needs to be known in a clear/understanding matter.”

“Course is clear and interesting.”

“Very fair exams/assignments. Improve grading scale – A is 95+, almost impossible in an already hard class.”

“Great at using real life examples and experiments.”

“Clear, easy to understand.”

“Well-paced course despite the course being compacted in time.”

“Organization of material is superb. Professor really really cares about his students’ success and learning. This is a very special, conscious professor, aware of his work and its impact.”

“Loved it, great summer experience.”

“Difficulty of the course is fair. Homework, labs, and attendance help boost exam grades.”

“Strength: his knowledge of the subject, his ability to teach us; labs are too long.”

“Great course.”

“Webassign is a great practice. Well-spaced course out a six week course.”

“Very funny and covers a lot.”

“So interesting. Does relevant problems. Makes exams related to homework questions.”

“He really enjoys physics and the experiments were cool.”

“Fantastic professor, hilarious, great and enthusiastic. Nice guy.”

“There were a ton of examples during lecture which were extremely helpful. He’s funny too and very willing to meet with students in office hours.”

“Knows answers to all my questions. Grading scale is ridiculous.”

“Very enthusiastic and interesting. Knows the material well and can explain it multiple ways.”

“Very good at explaining concepts and keeping students interested.”

“Awesome demos.”

“Professor Voroshilov is excellent. Very clear. Makes students understand.”

“Very clear on the course policy and gives many outlets of problems to do to understand the course material.”

“He knows what he is doing.”

“He emphasized his handwriting was hard to read so he made sure people were following along so that no one would feel lost.”

“Strong points were his mastery of the course material. He was always able to answer questions clearly. His demonstrations were also great, and the slides were well-prepared. Lectures sometimes were dull because we’d just worked through problems together.”

“The course covered a lot of content, but it was presented in a way that made it relevant to life – the real world, so it was interesting throughout.”

“Very clear verbally. Homework helps.”

“Good lab.”

“Fair exams.”

“Homework was very helpful in clarifying concepts.”

“Webassign – great tool.”

“Very fair in terms of time expected on studying and homework. Webassign problems were relevant to tests and useful in conceptual understanding the material.”

“Course is of adequate difficulty. Grading is very fair. Love the class. Great introduction to physics. Don’t see anything to be improved.”

“Exams and homework were very fair. Overall great course.”

“Great professor, though could try to be less monotonous, really funny sometimes. Overall liked him and class a lot.”

“The course was clear and well laid-out. It never felt overwhelming or scary.”

“Labs were great.”

“Great course, loved it.”

“Material is very difficult conceptually, but Val does a good job of explaining it.”

“The homework actually helped and the tests are very fair.”

“Learned a lot. I liked that the labs were for understanding material better.”

“He know the summer term is compressed, so he teaches accordingly and his exams are fair and he clearly has taken that time constraint in his mind. Also awesome physics demonstrations in class that are intriguing and help understand the material better. Improve handwriting.”

“Course was not too challenging, slightly boring, but I don’t really like physics.”

“Office hours with professor and teaching fellows saved me.”

“Course: concise and to the point; could be shorter.”

“Labs are usually very helpful to reinforce concepts, great that office hours last so long.”

“I like the way webassign works.”

“Thank you for making physics so much fun, and for being such an awesome teacher! Happy teachers’ day! You were definitely my favorite teacher! You always made our class very entertaining and I was really lucky to have you as a teacher! Thank you for teaching me to check my grades! Have a wonderful summer and stay in touch, I will read your book and tell you what I think!”

“He really cares about his students and provides the appropriate materials for their success.”

“Good instructor. Helps students learn well.”

“Good at breaking things down.”

“Passionate about teaching.”

“Very funny. Genuinely interested in the best ways to teach material.”

“Mr. Voroshilov has a clear understanding of all he teaches and is a master on the subject.”

“Mr. Voroshilov does a good job of doing example problems with a simple approach to make material clear.”

“Enthusiastic and entertaining.”

“Gives very fair exams.”

“Great explanation of concepts.”

“Very enthusiastic. Used lots of demonstrations. Always made time for questions.”

“Gives many question examples. Each lecture has many helpful visuals.”

“Very funny in some way. Goes over the course concepts clearly.”

“Fantastic. Love his humor, makes class fun. Tons of office hour availability which is great. Very good at explaining concepts.”

“Incredibly funny and encouraging. Really enjoyed the class.”

“Very clear and knowledgeable. Funny. Made class fun and attainable.”

“Cares about students. Jokes around with them.”

“Obviously knows material very well and keeps class engaged. Encourages participation.”

“Fantastic teacher. I suck at physics and Mr. Voroshilov made it very straightforward, understandable and manageable. Also hilarious.”

“Mr. Voroshilov has a teaching technique that is almost flawless, and I wish more professors had the ability to make a class as lively and interesting as Mr. Voroshilov has done this summer. He was literally ready to risk his life to show us demonstrations, solved as many problems as he possibly could, and was fair in exams. Way to go, wish more professors were like you. Very intelligent, knows material very well.”

“Makes the class entertaining. I find physics to be boring at times but he keeps things fun. Very fair grader and I like his tests.”

“He is clearly passionate about physics. His accent is not a problem, because he genuinely tries to speak slowly and clearly. His class demonstrations are really helpful.”

“Great.”

“He clearly cares about not only the material, but his students’ grasp of physics. He did his best to show and not tell. Also, examples in class made up for the fast pace. I respect how his exams clearly reflect material from class and show a true understanding of presented material. Improve: He has mastered how to teach this course. Only important would be closer instruction of TAs.”

“Professor is very knowledgeable and explains concepts well. His demonstrations are useful and fun.”

“He clearly loves physics. While he has typos a lot it doesn’t ever interfere with clarity of lecture.”

“Instructor is passionate about material, quick to answer questions (email and in person). Instructor knows about material well and truly cares about students. At office hours, instructor is extremely helpful and patient explaining concepts clearly. 10/10 experience.”

“The professor is good at explaining concepts. He makes lecture interesting and is funny. He also is available for office hours regularly.”

“Very fun. Some of the funniest moments in my college experience. Great format.”

“Helps walk students through questions, does not mind back-tracking in case a student doesn’t understand. Has a lot of visuals and experiments that he does to help us understand the material better.”

“Very funny and engaging. Inspires interest.”

“Knowledgeable. Morbid humor.”

“Knowledgeable. Provides excellent class materials (PowerPoint, recorded lectures etc.). Assignments indicative of challenge level.”

“Enthusiasm and humor. Explaining how to keep going through problems with variables.”

“Mr. Voroshilov was an excellent professor. He quickly responded to all questions and was often available outside of class. He included demonstrations during almost every lecture that were both helpful and fun.”

“Strong lecture demonstrations. Good paring. Great dry humor. Very knowledgeable and well organized.”

“Very clear. Fair. Encourages questions. Works well with practical problems.”

“Mr. Voroshilov is really good at explaining concepts. He helps me regain my confidence in physics. He is super helpful outside class. I love his jokes.”

“Patient. Useful demonstrations. Useful practice problems.”

“The professor is really clear. His lectures and presentations do not simply gave explanations to memorize but rather comprehend them. He accomplishes this through demonstrations with experiments. Engaged students in problem solving. Also he makes the lectures interesting.”

“The professor is good at explaining concepts. He makes lecture interesting and is funny. He also is available for office hours regularly.”

______________________________

My reflection.

I believe that having this type of a feedback shows that overtime I have made a transition from being a teach-er to becoming a teach-smith :) (www.GoMars.xyz/teachsmith.html)

The first two paragraphs above are copies of the thank-you cards I got from two of my former students, the rest is the quotes from end-of-a-course (elementary physics I and II) student evaluations from 2008 to 2017 about me and the course I have designed. Those quotes represent about two thirds of positive (mostly) views expressed by students (the other third expresses sentiments very similar to already presented). It is worth noting, that many comments go beyond just “he is a nice guy”; many comments underline the fact that the course is designed to help students to get good understanding of physics.

Do I have any negative reviews from my former students?

Of course!

Having only positive reviews is unnatural for a teacher of a large class. When one has several dozen students with different backgrounds, different expectations, different cultural habits and psychological inclinations, it is inevitable and unavoidable to have student who did not like the way one teaches (due to a list of possible reasons).

The first question is – does the teacher have more positive or more negative reviews?

Well, in my case, if I had more negative reviews than positive ones, I would not be allowed to teach these courses for so many years.

Since I am a teacher, it seems natural to me to evaluate my skills by comparing them with the skills of other teachers. Unfortunately, I have no access to statistic on other BU physics department faculty; I would even think that this statistic might not even exist. “Fortunately”, www.ratemyprofessor.com gives some glimpses of “comparable” “data”. Surly, no one can take seriously what students post on this site, at least until hundreds of students would express their opinions on the same professor. However, even with this amount of “data” we still can see some interesting patterns. There are faculty whose average rating is high because the most of the students’ ratings are high; there are faculty whose average rating is law because the most of the students’ ratings are law; there are faculty whose average rating is average because the most of the students’ ratings are average. But there are also faculty whose average ratemyprofessor rating is average because students’ ratings are veryopposite (some give a high rating but some give a lower one). So far my ratemyprofessor rating is of the latter kind (good thing is that my official BU student reviews aren't such; but one can ask a general questions – what is more important, the average rating or the highest one?).

This is the glimpse of some of the reviews taken from the ratemyprofessor:

GOOD!

BAD!!

Mr. V was honestly the best professor I have had at BU. I never take the time to rate my other professors but Mr. V is worthy of the praise. He made the summer course worthwhile. His demonstrations were great and his humor always made my day. Go to office hours, do the web assign, and you will learn a lot. He is an awesome human. Thank you

 

I was very worried coming into this class, having ALWAYS struggled with classes like Physics. I was also worried when I heard Dr. V's strong accent. However, after taking 2 straight summer courses with Dr. V, he has proven to be an incredibly nice, caring, and funny professor who really wants his students to succeed! GO TO OFFICE HOURS, DO HOMEWORK

I took PY105 in the summer and although I honestly dislike physics, I did enjoy Mr. V's lectures. I guess his accent's gotten better because our class was the first to not complain about it (2016). The exams are generally difficult but graded more leniently that most other BU courses IMO. I'd love to have him for physics again for 106, he's chill.

 

Val is a great professor. He is somewhat difficult to understand and his handwriting is atrocious, but overall he does a good job getting the concepts across. He has some awesome in class demos which are fun to watch. He tests very similar to the homework problems, so if you understand the homework fully you'll be fine.

Not fair. First exam was easy. But other exams were ridiculously hard. Exams are much more difficult than HW problems. Handwriting is horrible and it is difficult to understand him. Never tells what is exactly on the exam. Expects you to study everything he gives (labs, discussion, lectures, webassign, etc). Not clear at all.

 

Very difficult to understand. Homework questions are not like questions done in class. Goes through too much material far too quickly. Do not take this class over the summer.

Very hard professor and moves at the pace of a fast train. he does not go through examples and thinks people understand concepts when they do not really. i really wish he would solidly lecture/explain more.

 

Expects you to have read ahead of class and memorized everything. there is no required textbook, but he takes class problems, homework, and test questions from the one that he recommends, which is not helpful at all. he speeds thru things and doesn't give one time to write or properly digest the info. if he's teaching, take physics later.

Unless you're a genius and already know everything there is to know about physics, DON'T take him. The language barrier isn't as bad as people make it out to be, but he just assumes that you've read 5 chapters ahead and have memorized all the equations. I've lost track of how many things I get lost on because he hadn't gone over it in class.

You would probably prefer having a teacher described on the left, and tried to avoid the one described on the right. But the fact of the matter is those two descriptions depict the same person, i.e. me (BTW: on the first day of each new class I always show to my new students a much longer list of pros and cons)!

I think this is very solid proof of the fact that different students have different learning styles and different teachers have different teaching styles, and sometimes those styles match and sometimes they don't.

It is clear that students’ opinions about me are polarized, and I am absolutely fine with that.

The large part of my first lecture is devoted to presenting to students my views on physics, on teaching, on learning, on grading, and on my expectations about students. (for example, take a look at this short video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E8776nfGNX8; over the years I have posted many short youtube videos, including videos on what is physics and how to solve physical problems).

I always mention a simple fact, that different students learn differently, people have different learning styles, and different teachers have different teaching styles, hence, there is always a chance that my teaching style does not math somebody's learning style. What to if that happens? Well, a student will have to make a decision – stay or go to a different teacher. So far (knock on wood) I represent a good match for the majority of students taking BU PY105 and PY106 courses.

Among negative reviews the most common themes are: an accent (Russian), handwriting (guilty, my handwriting is not much better than the one of a regular doctor), too fast (well, the average speed of covering the material is equal to the total volume of the material divided by six weeks of the course), do not answer questions in full (that is sometimes true, it depends on a question, sometimes I just cannot spend much time on repeating the material learned two weeks ago and only can point at the material which is needed to be reviewed again), too forward with students (for example, when asking direct questions; an interesting observation – you ask a direct question to a student in a lecture and the student “shrinks”, but there is almost no problem if it happens on office hour).

I believe that for any teacher the list of positive reviews from students should present the best recommendation for a teaching job.

When I left my comfortable life in Russia and moved to the US I did not have professional network to rely on, or money, or language. It took me some time to finally land at Boston University physics department as a laboratory assistant. Gradually my English got better, and my knowledge of the new academic environment got clearer. After three years I got a promotion to run a demonstration facility. A year after I started teaching BU elementary physics courses, and I have been teaching physics since then. During the last several years, in addition to my full-time position at the demonstration facility, I also have been teaching, and traveling to different conferences with posters or presentations, and publishing various papers, but my dream has always been to became a full-time physics instructor.

I have an experience in research on teaching physics, I have an administrative experience, I have been helping to school teachers and administrators to improve teaching environment (for the full resume, please, follow this link: http://teachology.xyz/mathhealth/rezume.htm), but at my core I am a physics teacher.

My teacher philosophy, my views on what is teaching and what is learning are presented in my book “Braking the Mold of Conventional Thinking: a Personal Quest for Teaching Philosophy” available at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/603624 (the short version of my teaching philosophy is attached as Appendix I).

P.S. This link http://teachology.xyz/mathhealth/myinfo.htm leads to a page with links to copies of some actual evaluations form the past.

__________________________________

Appendix I

Finally (August 17, 2017)!

http://gomars.xyz/phy.html

The complete elementary Physics course (two semesters) is available online. Now everyone can see and hear what I do in a class.

Appendix II (some technical elements of my teaching are described at http://gomars.xyz/phy.html)

Teaching Statement (for the broader version, please follow to: http://www.gomars.xyz/vvli.html)

Dear Colleagues,

Below you find a very short version of my teaching philosophy, which has been presented in great details in my book “Becoming a STEM teacher”. In chapters “What is Learning”, “What is Teaching”, “How I flipped my classroom without even knowing it”, “What does “Thinking as a Physicist” mean?”, and others I lay down the results of my reflection upon years of my (mostly successful) teaching (individual posts are also available at http://www.teachology.xyz/lc.htm).

I believe that learning is more than just acquiring a certain set of skills and prescribed amount of knowledge. Learning is an important cultural process which happens when pupils (students) are being brought into the realm of relationships and traditions which should allow them (a) to prosper in the current society, and (b) to become active agents of the social progress.

I believe that a teacher is more than just a “walking knowledge storage” who imparts this knowledge on students and judge how good students have become at reproducing the knowledge imparted onto them. My definition of teaching is: “Teaching is guiding students through a specifically designed set of learning experiences (a.k.a. student activities) to help them to develop or advance desired skills and knowledge.”

A teacher is a guide, who had become an expert in a certain field, and now helps students to begin and to walk a path to becoming an expert in the field he or she wants to become an expert. In order to guide students as efficiently as possible, a teacher has to use (and often develop) specific tools/instruments students should use when immersed into situations specifically designed to help them mastering designated skills. A teacher might be not the one who designs the whole set of student activities and corresponded learning tools, but he or she generally should have a deep understanding of the reasons for the use of the activities and tools.

Students are not empty vases needed to be filled up with wisdom, not tabula rasa on which a teacher scribbles smart things. Students have certain world views, they have certain understanding of how the nature works, and a teacher cannot ignore ideas, conceptions, preconceptions (some of which might be incomplete or incorrect) students have when starting a course.

The goal of learning is to achieve a higher level of competency.  Passive learning does not work. Strictly speaking, passive learning is not really a learning, it is just a precursor for an actual learning.  A true learning happens when students are actively trying to merge new knowledge (usually presented to them by a teacher live or via mediating media – books, videos) with the previously internalized knowledge. Very often students run into contradictions, some of which are often called “mistakes”. However, the only truly real way of learning is through making mistakes and reflecting on how those mistakes had been corrected.

One of the most important qualities of a teacher is ability to guide students through mistakes they make (maneuvering between giving away the answer and making students feeling desperate).

When assessing student’s progress, a teacher is not a judge, but rather an auditor who has to present to a student the accurate measure of student’s achievement (or a failure).

In the end, the most important measure of a teacher’s success is good feeling students have about themselves, the course, the work students done during the course and the results of the work; and also the reputation of a teacher students pass along to fellow students.

That is why the simplest definition of a “teacher” is “the person about whom someone said at least once – I’ve learned something valuable from that guy!”

Sincerely,

Dr. Valentin Voroshilov

http://www.gomars.xyz/vv.htm

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