Administrivia - A portmanteau of “administrator” and “trivial,” administrivia describes work upper-level managers imagine to be essential but is unnecessary. For teachers, such work includes meeting to establish the names of professional learning communities, meeting in professional learning communities to agree on norms for late-start mornings, and meeting in department teams to re-work recently approved changes to the school’s mission.
Lost Boys - According to Pan legend, the Lost Boys fell out of their baby carriages when their nurses and nannies weren’t looking. Unclaimed for seven days, the boys went to Neverland to live with Peter Pan, the boy who wouldn’t grow up. There are no Lost Girls, Peter explains, because girls are too clever to fall out of their carriages, too smart to explore the world outside strollers. They stare at clouds and contemplate girl things.
Not all boys are lost, and not all girls sit comfortably. Farah, the motocross fan and soccer player with bruised wrists, sits with her binder in her lap, head down, hair swishing in front of her face like car wash curtain flaps. Farah’s teacher says he cannot do more for Farah because fifth period is overrun with Lost Boys, and while the boys make their needs known, Farah stares at her lap and contemplates girl things, like bruises and dirt bike break fluid.
Last Minute Chemotherapy
Bring out the Magical Teacher mojo:
2/3 cup light rum
1/4 cup crushed and torn mint leaves (from your balcony herb pots)
1/2 cup freshly squeezed key lime juice
4-6 tablespoons sugar (to taste) or Splenda
4 slices lime and 4 sprigs mint for garnish
Place half a dozen ice cubes in a beverage shaker and add the rum, mint leaves, key lime juice, and sugar. Shake well, long enough for the sugar to dissolve. Strain mixture over additional ice into high ball or martini glasses. Garnish the drinks with lime and mint sprigs.
Sheryl Cornett currently teaches English at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. She has also taught high school French in Kenya, East Africa, homeschooled her own kids, and conducted creative writing workshops in the public schools. Her recent poems, stories, and essays appear in the North Carolina Literary Review, Image, Pembroke Magazine, Mars Hill Review, and The Independent Weekly among other journals, magazines, and anthologies. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University.
I like the way that shrubs and flowers
lean against my classroom windows
as if wanting to enroll. What would the azalea
say when asked about the Forest of Arden?
And would the red, red rose respond
to my mistress’ eyes as something,
after all, like the sun? What’s not to like
in these my vernal, budding pupils—
so firmly rooted in this soil, so curiously
intertwined? My vegetable love should grow
with each new bell of earnest fragrance,
fair and passing fair, each one.
As Eve once more eats of that fruit,
I hear their universal groan.
Previously published in Christian Century.
Paul J. Willis is a professor of English at Westmont College and the former poet laureate of Santa Barbara, California. His most recent collections of poetry are Rosing from the Dead (WordFarm, 2009) and Say This Prayer into the Past (Cascade Books, 2013). He is also the co-editor of the anthology In a Fine Frenzy: Poets Respond to Shakespeare (University of Iowa Press, 2005).
Infodump - Spurred by teachers realizing students are “behind,” “below standard,” or unprepared for tests, infodumping allows teachers to share remaining handouts, PowerPoint presentations, and lecture notes in one fell swoop.
Classically, infodumping is the domain of history teachers. Per the President’s order, every American high school has at least one History teacher who teaches the whole textbook and infodumps the entire year, usually in a Hawaiian shirt, while the rest of the department falls behind and leaves several decades or centuries “uncovered.” These remaining teachers understand the second-halves of history textbooks are not meant to be read.
The phrases “No time to waste,” “Let’s get to business,” “Stay on track,” and “We have so much territory to cover” foretell infodumping. Pedagogical shamans note the use of words like “territory” and “tracks” especially. Students may not be on literal trains headed West, but Westward Expansion lurks in the back of textbooks and on the horizon. Teachers may plan a unit for the end of the year, but only skilled infodumpers get to the content. Everyone else settles for talking about teaching in metaphors of “progress.”
Antonyms: edutainment, funderstanding.
I turn the pages of my yearbook until I find the varsity baseball team. The wave in Steve DeVoss’s hair kills me. While my third-grade teacher has me building a California mission sugar cube by sticky sugar cube, DeVoss is an honest-to-god baseball player, spinning curveballs past every middle school hitter in the valley.
His wave—shining with hydrogen peroxide—rises from the razor-straight part lining the left side of his head, crests in a gelled swell, and finally breaks across the right side of his forehead before washing past his ear. He seems a god. Like what a god would look like after being sent to earth to live as a twelve-year-old with the wisp of a mustache. Straight teeth, straight ahead, straight at everything that matters.
I met Jeff in Introduction to Water when I was five. He puckered like a fish and taught me to exhale a stream of bubbles. When I was six, he held me up in the dead man’s float position in the big pool where I couldn’t touch bottom. When I had to jump off the diving board to earn my Red Cross Beginning Swimmer card, I plunged toward him like an octopus, fastening myself around his neck.
Jeff was there every summer: when I was five and six and seven and an Advanced Beginner, eight and passing Intermediate, nine when my father left, ten when I was in Swimmer class all summer, eleven when my father married again.
The summer my father bought a house with his new wife, Jeff romanced Candy, who sat in the elementary school bleachers watching as the pool lifeguards took on the beach guards in a summer slow pitch game. I was there too, barefoot and scabby-kneed like the other kids. We cheered for the pool guards, really for Jeff, a god in mirrored sunglasses with a gleaming smile that matched the zinc oxide on his nose.
Almost every day, I bookmark a website, email myself an article, or highlight a passage in a book with my students in mind. I outline lecture notes and jot conversation starters in the page margins of whatever I’m reading. I craft engaging questions and anticipate my students’ reactions.
The only thing is, I have no students.
I haven’t set foot in a classroom—and no one has called me Ms. Jones—in six months.
I’m not, according to my tax returns, a teacher. According to those tax returns, I’m not even employed.
Even so, I know which day on the syllabus I want to squeeze in a new text, and I know exactly how I want to incorporate a song I heard on the radio into our class discussion about postmodernism.
Why am I constantly aware of my imaginary students? Students with faces, even, and names? Becca, whose ponytail is hidden beneath a camouflage cap, who wears furry boots with Nike gym shorts. Andrew, whose dark eyebrows make him appear perpetually skeptical. Natalia, the volleyball player who towers more than a foot above me when she approaches my podium.
Who are these people?
It is musical chairs with plums and lemons,
all the names trying to sit on the same plum
and staining their shorts in a most undignified way.
They rise warily, sponge themselves off, point and bicker,
shift liked magnets caught in mutual attitudes of antipathy.
There are unruly forces at work. Tremendous sparks
fly from the paper before her. Professor A is deeply
insulted by the suggestion that one of his experience
should be asked to teach composition to the freshmen.
Professor B has carefully noted who in the past
has been granted the choice honors sections;
clearly, it is his turn. Professor C is fine about teaching
at eight o’clock—but she is just fooling!
Professor D would like to teach an overload, just
this once, until he pays for the remodel on his home.