Not much. The first thing I usually do is take off my shoes. Nothing feels quite so good at the end of the day as rubbing my bare feet on the carpet below my desk.

I always daydream. Sometimes I imagine my students and I are on top of a green mountain Sound of Music style, band of happy singers flinging candy-stripe suitcases and brown satchels with leather straps every which way. Look at me! Singing in the abbey garden without permission. I am governess, surrogate parent.

Maybe I am a wilderness instructor leading my charges across a precipitous mountain ridge. The choreography is a single file lock-step march toward a craggy peak on the horizon. Bags are heavy with allergy pills, shin guards, blue plastic retainer cases, spiral notebooks, seashell headphones, waterproof volumizing mascara, Jergen’s ultra-healing lotion, and extra boxes of World’s Finest Chocolate.

We weaken as we near Mount Doom, the heart of the black land. I trust by the time we get there we will know why we’re here, and what we’re throwing in the fiery pit. My team has questions too. Where are we going? they want to know. Who chose this path? When will the bus pick us up? What happens when the sky goes dark? What’s with all the up and down?

“It’s a mountain, Chris.”

“The mountain we need to piss on?”

I hear their justified and unjustified opinions. I hear bits of gossip with names: Brian has a strobe light. In his shower! Mr. Brubaker is the coolest. I ask Cassie if this counts for the spelling walk she wanted to do, and she says no. I wonder if there will be a castle somewhere along the way and if we will get food and water. Pilar says she needs to clean her ear piercing. I invent a castle. “We’ll be at the castle soon,” I say. “You can use the bathroom there.”

“But I don’t have a dungeon pass,” she says.

“Then you’ll have to ask the guard.”

She stomps a snowy foot. A rock on the ledge tumbles and hits other rocks, cascading. She fiddles with a turquoise bead on her ear and swings her pink backpack to the side and gets out a box of powdered donut holes and a gray pepperoni stick.

“Who do you have after this?” she asks Mae.

“I’m not sure,” Mae says, taking a donut. “Mrs. Riley?”

I’m not their only leader. The students go on trips where they get similarly lectured and advised, marked up and graded down. Points are important, one leader tells them. Points are not important, another says. This assignment is worth fifty-five points, literature explores great ideas, science is not a mystery, you are the future, study the past. In math, call it “data”; in science, call it “evidence”; in English, “concrete detail.” This meets expectations, this exceeds expectations, this does not meet expectations as outlined in the rubric. As if normal human beings would say such things to each other on a journey of great importance.

We keep marching.

Sometimes I imagine we get to the castle and my students find a spiral staircase. I disappear because I know if I don’t add steps at the rate they climb, they’ll get to the top and find me there with a handheld trowel, a half-empty bag of powder cement, and some melting snow. I just added these last few, I’ll say, pointing to crumbling stairs that drop off in the sky.

I type a rough outline for tomorrow’s lesson:

  • Continue work on the Fahrenheit 451 theme essay.
  • Revise thesis statements to be more clear and specific. Share out.
  • Select three quotations from different parts of the book.

(Derek Smith)


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