Narwhals Are Real (And Other Lessons From My Second Class)

I’m teaching a course this semester called “How to Get a Job.” Because Blackboard is a serious pain to use from the student perspective, I’m administering the course through Google Docs. Each student got a folder; when I set up the folders for the students, I didn’t know what their names would be. So I named them after mythical creatures:

  • Centaur
  • Dragon
  • Elf
  • Hydra
  • Phoenix
  • Manticore
  • Fairy

I had underestimated the number of students who would attend the first day of class, so I had some of my students make their own folders and choose their own names. Here was what I got:

  • Ninja
  • Liger
  • Narwal
  • LaserFiesta

With the exception of LaserFiesta, I know that none of those listed above are mythical creatures. I tried to explain to my students–“Ligers are totally real! They’re just not particularly well designed animals.” “Ok, ok,” my students said. “Narwhals are totally made up though.”

“I know narwhals are real too–you know, from the song.” I hummed that psychedelic hymn to the narwhal:

At home later that night, I discovered that the disbelief in the existence of narwhals was not exclusive to my class. My dear partner felt they were mythical as well.

I showed him the above video.  He was unswayed. (I think the line about Cthulhu made it less than perfect empirical evidence). I thought for a bit, then scrounged up my favorite TedTalk of the week, from arctic photographer Paul Nicklen:

Success. I also managed to convince him that belugas are also not mythical creatures, though again, the children’s rhyme was not evidence enough.

This semester, I hope to teach my students to write resumes with confidence, smile during interviews, and approach their job searches with something less than spine-chilling terror. I want to make my class a safe space to vent and brainstorm to overcome the stresses of career planning. I expect to learn more than I teach, and teach as much as I know.

I just didn’t anticipate our first serious class discussion to be about the existence of narwhals.

Inspirational Quote:

“Diplomacy is the art of letting someone else have your way.”–Daniele Vare

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