Thank You, Kim Kardashian!

What I really love about my job is how unpredictable and full of surprises it is. Do you remember how I told you about this horrible, perennially bored, indifferent, and silent 3 pm group I’m teaching this semester? Well, yesterday I finally achieved a breakthrough with these students.

I keep trying to teach them how to write a good academic essay. To do so, I always invent a student who speaks good Spanish but messes up the format, the bibliography page, the citation style, etc. I want to make the exercise funny, so I name this imaginary student after some easily recognizable celebrity. The only problem is that I don’t really know any celebrities that my students would recognize. Believe me, nothing makes you feel more ancient than mentioning Ricky Martin and having students stare at you with no comprehension.

But how is one to learn about celebrities if one doesn’t watch television or read tabloids? The answer is obvious: the grocery checkout line. When I started preparing these essay-writing exercises, I remembered how N. always asks me at the grocery checkout, “So who is this Kim Kardashian person and why is she on the cover of every magazine?” So I gathered that Kim Kardashian must be really famous and chose her for my activities.

Today in class, a student asked me, “You keep mentioning Kim Kardashian. Do you really like her?”

It is so rare that I get asked a question – any question – in this class that I was inordinately happy to answer it.

“I don’t really know who she is,” I told the students and explained my method of choosing a celebrity for class activities. Unwilling to lose this opportunity to hear human voices in this classroom that normally feels like a crypt, I asked, “So do you, folks, like Kim Kardashian?”

For five minutes students happily chattered about this celebrity.

After that, I felt the temperature in the classroom go up by about 20 degrees. For the first time this semester, there was some warmth I felt coming from the students. We even had a fruitful discussion of the housing market bubble in Spain, which is far from being the most exciting topic in this class.

The students talked, asked questions, analyzed and expressed opinions about Spain’s economy. And then the most astonishing thing happened. For the first time ever, we actually overstayed the class time by two entire minutes because these students, the same students, who always pack their stuff 10 minutes before the class is supposed to end and sit on the edge of their chairs ready to sprint away the second I let them go, actually wanted to stay longer and keep discussing the real estate market in Spain.

I had tried everything in this course. Told jokes, shared touching stories about my life, entertained, performed, and even danced a little. Nothing worked until I mentioned Kim Kardashian. I have absolutely no idea why a short discussion about this particular person got the students to warm up to me. What I know that this will not work with any other group because all groups are different. But for now, I just want to thank Kim Kardashian for existing and for helping me enjoy teaching this section at least once in the semester.