Posts from the Surprise Inspiration Category

Or, How to Have a Summer Vacation in December

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
Club soda
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.

Paul Willis Green Studies 2
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).

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.


She is matching professors with classes for next year.
That is what department heads do on a winter evening,
Vivaldi playing his neat solutions in the air.

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.


math problems
1. There are 40 teachers on your faculty. If four are retiring (but only two of those are full-time), one is becoming an administrator, two are leaving for graduate school, two are going on parental leave (but they both swear they’re coming back!), one is returning from parental leave (but can only find child care until 1:00 pm), one is following a spouse on sabbatical to Rome (but only until Christmas), one would really like to move up to full time in math, one would really like to cut back from full time in Spanish, one is getting fired in June but doesn’t know it yet, and another threatens to quit if he has to direct one more choir concert, how many hours will you spend in search committee meetings this spring?

2. Fourth period begins in three minutes, and you realize you have yet to make copies of the day’s test. On copy number two out of twenty-six, the photocopier jams. You consult the screen, which instructs you to open the vertical conveyance unit, release lever 9A, lower tray 13, turn knobs G and H, and replace the staple cartridge.

2a. Draw a diagram of the inner workings of the photocopier, accompanied by text explaining how you will fix the jam. Number each step, and remember to title and clearly label your drawing.

2b. Challenge question: Will you get to class on time? Please provide evidence for your argument.


Among Schoolchildren
Tracy Kidder’s Among Schoolchildren is the story of Mrs. Zajac’s 5th grade classroom; it’s also a masterful work of literary journalism about what it means to engage meaningfully in everyday work. I dare say it’s the best book about teaching I’ve read.

On the tops of pages 138 and 139, I wrote in all capitals, “I WANT TO BE IN MRS. ZAJAC’S CLASS.” This is because Mrs. Zajac is serious. And funny. And mean and nice and fair. She is quintessentially a teacher, yet her students (and Kidder’s readers) sympathize with her as a human being. Mrs. Zajac makes me want to teach better, and the way Kidder describes her teaching makes me want to write better.


That’s me and my students six or seven years ago, a few of whom wanted to catch snowflakes. This post is retrospective in part, so I thought the pic would be appropriate.

Today on Magical Teaching, I bring you the Top Ten Magical Teaching posts of 2012 as well as some two-sentence teaching resolutions from a few of our contributors and fans: one step back and one step forward, something old mixed with something new.

A Step Back: Top 10 Posts from 2012

In 2012, Magical Teaching garnered over 21,000 views, attracting visitors from 103 countries. There were 93 posts overall, and the busiest day of the year was Oct. 24, with 3,371 views. Here are the top 10 posts of the year, in case you missed them the first time around.

10. “Do Teachers Actually Save Lives?” – text by Steven VanderStaay
9. “Granola Bars and the Path to Student Services” – text by Sheryl Cornett
8. “Desks Covered With Graphite and Ink” – text by James Boutin
7. “A Rare Moment of Pause” – text by Kolby Kerr
6. “Diatribes From a Point Junkie” – text by Ajane Burnley
5. “How I Regulate Even When I’m Gone” – text by Miss Darkside
4. “Show Me Your Class Rosters” – video by Derek Smith
3. “Letter to a New Teacher” – text by Derek Smith
2. “Somewhere in the Middle” – text by Lindsey Jones
1. “What Time Is It?” – photo by Derek Smith

A Step Forward: Two-sentence Teaching Resolutions

STEVE VANDERSTAAY: My evening self resolves to be kind to my morning self. I’ll trim the e-mail inbox to 10 messages.

CHRISTIAN CERONE: Get manila folders. Organize my file cabinets.

JENNIFER MERCEDE: Two thousand thirteen is my sugar wean. Plus, I’ll write a song a week.

JO ANNA GAONA ALBIAR: I vow to remember my role as teacher/server and forego my natural tendency toward sarcasm and self. And to exercise more so I can carry stacks of research papers from building to building, up and down many stairs, without having to show up breathing hard and sweating all over the place.

DAVID JACOBSEN: Amuse myself less. Agitate my students more.

AJANE BURNLEY: Get an internship. Try harder (at most things).

PAUL WILLIS: Climb high. Grade low.

DEREK SMITH: Zoom in. Look closely.

EVIN SHINN: Work less. Balance more.

JACK KENNEDY: Writing is thinking made visible. Must intentionally do more to promote good thinking.

BETSY KALMAN: Delegate the teaching of grammar lessons to my students. Read aloud more in class.

MELANIE SIEVERS: Retire as soon as possible. Remain calm until then.

LISA GRUDMAN FOLKMAN: Make a difference to each child, whether it be big or small. Send them off to a new year with confidence.

THE MODERN TEACHER: Do more with less. Be happy about it.

What’s your two-sentence teaching resolution? Share in the comments below.

(Derek Smith)