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intercession willis
When I wake in the night and think
of what I might have said in class that day,
I wonder why my life consists

of inarticulate occasions.
No timely word, only belated ones.
Every hour a first draft, and then another.

It makes me want to announce, “Listen!
Listen to what I do not say. Listen
to what it is you cannot say yourselves.”

There are sighs and groans,
just sighs and groans.
Interpret them, dear ones, as you may.

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).

pen caps
For a course on modern theater I was asked to submit a performance review. The play was Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible.” I waited until the last minute to write the review and didn’t bother with the substance of the performance. Instead I focused on the quality of the props. In one section, I compared the rifle that one of the main characters brandished to a prop from Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland. (Even now I’m not going to look up the character’s name on Wikipedia to make it seem as if I truly remember the play.) That line earned me some good laughs when I read it aloud that night in class. I looked down, perfectly abashed, while my classmates laughed.

I thought I was hot shit in college. Substitute any other time period for ‘college’ and you’ll have a good idea of my life story. I took the laughter and the good grade and my feeling of extreme cleverness like they were birthrights.

My prof asked me to stay after class. When the last student was gone, he asked me to sit across from him at the seminar table. He told me he’d given me a high mark because my writing was excellent. (Duh. I was trying to pay attention, but he wasn’t saying anything I didn’t know. Of course the writing was excellent.) Then he told me he wished he could have given me a poor mark. (Huh?) He said I was squandering my talent. He said he expected better of me. He said I could shoot for easy laughs and get them every time. Then he was silent and stared at me and I capped and uncapped my pen and pitted out and mumbled something and tried to pull a door that needed to be pushed and walked back to my dorm room alone.

I wish that had happened to me more. I wish I hadn’t been twenty when it happened first.

David Jacobsen lives in central Oregon where he teaches, edits, and writes. He is the author of Rookie Dad and his website is

I really did not know what to say.

This was my fifth observation of potential student teachers, a one-semester job I took on to help out a friend at a local university who needed the semester off due to a difficult pregnancy. The first four lessons had been solid (if flawed), but each observation held the promise of something great happening.

Today I was observing two potential English student teachers as part of their “pre-service” work preparing for the classroom, and the two young women who were partnering in this lesson were well-dressed and well-prepared. A class of 24 freshmen seemed ready to learn.

The lesson? How to address a business envelope.


New & Career Teachers Who Can’t Stop Caring:

Maybe it’s me, but I sometimes tire of the policy-talk about teaching: tests, unions, contracts, etc. I know the conversations are important—vital, really, when the passion is matched by logic, like on James Boutin’s awesome blog—but I need humor and humanity too. Magical Teaching is a site where those of us who need more time at lunch for laughing and story-telling can get ten more minutes.

Finish your apple!

It helps to like the Magical Teaching Facebook page. That’s where you can steal two  seconds of laughter and a maybe a whole minute for an article that asks, “Why must teachers constantly prove their successes rather than work through their mistakes?” even as the real, surreal work continues.

Join me at this table.