silence thirty students and laptops along the room's perimeter a pile of backpacks between the door and a bookcase fingers on keyboards like rain on a sidewalk warm, stagnant air of early afternoon five heads on desks between hoods and forearms cold coffee in a thrift-store mug by the keyboard on your desk a pencil eraser on a desk 120 beats per minute a whisper a nod silence
The last time you were drowning
The last time you were drowning, they came to see to you after school. You were washing mugs in your classroom sink. They watched you, said you were methodical — a word you associate with supervillains. Scars in your vision danced on the whiteboard behind their head when you talked about your week.
Odds & Evens
Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from February, 2022.
I. bak kwa, n.
A new year, another long day corralling teenagers into an English class reading a book half of them won’t open. Stayed late again, grading essays, finalizing semester grades. The smell of pork in our foyer from the dinner you’re cooking.
II. crafternoon, n.
You’ve been working late, like every other January. The sun sets before you’re home — before you even start driving, I’m sure. I created a sun using some tissue paper from the tub of wrapping stuff in the closet, hang it over the gas fireplace, switched on, so you could bask in its warmth.
III. haterade, n.
For 15 minutes, I ramble about the grading system erroring out all afternoon, making me hand-enter each grade for my 170 students. You listen patiently to complaints I’ve made so many times before.
IV. orthogonally, adv.
After I place food on the table, you take your usual seat on the side of the table to my right — the same seat you took on our first date years ago, saying that the seat directly across from me would be too far away.
V. shakebuckler, n.
I finally stop talking and ask about your day. You talk about the traffic downtown on your way to city hall, an argument you had with Councilmember Meyers about building better infrastructure for busses and bikes around town. “He said to me, no joke, ‘You bring this issue up at every damn council meeting. We simply don’t have the funds.’ And then, when I brought up last year’s increase to police funding, he slapped the folder out of my hand!”
VI. antiquating, n.
Meyers has been — and always will be — stuck in the past. I’ve argued with him — constantly — throughout my entire tenure on city council.
VII. oojamaflip, n.
There’s a term you always use to describe Councilmember Meyers that I can never remember until you say it again. The memory plays back, but the audio muffles. I see your smile, I hear our laughter, but I can’t hear the word.
VIII. froideur, n.
I continue, “It’s like he can’t even entertain the idea he might be wrong or should change course ever. He just double-downs on every. single. issue. Even Louis Armstrong would call him a moldy fig.” You laugh.
IX. chicken finger, n.
Some students eat in my room at lunch — the commons’s chaos too much for them. They carry little cardboard bowls, small cartons of chocolate milk. We talk while we eat, and they ask about you. When I tell them about your infrastructure bill and Councilmember Meyers, they are as heated as you were at dinner last night. They ask if they can do anything to help, and I get an idea.
X. chopsy, adj.
Meyers gives a longwinded speech at our next council meeting — the first Monday of February. His prattling is punctuated by his wrinkled cheeks shaking every time he sneers the word “homeless.”
XI. bonze, n.
My class’s next unit focuses on world religions, so I invited a priest from the Buddhist temple across town to talk to my kids. They talked about community.
XII. japchae, n.
I take a long lunch after the morning session — long, because of the time it takes to get to my favorite Korean restaurant across town, both by foot (because of the distance) or car (because of the traffic), which are the only viable methods of travel due to the inaction of city council.
XIII. rakeshame, n.
Kids tend to talk in simplified terms — good people, bad people, nothing in between. So when my lunch group talks about organizing a protest, I have to remind them (albeit begrudgingly) that Councilmember Meyers is a person, not a monster.
XIV. passado, n.
The restaurant is empty, like most days, despite signage outside detailing their deals, their signature dishes. They greet me by name (and title). I watch car after car pass by.
XV. maple leaf, n.
The season’s last leaf whimpers on a branch outside my classroom window. Change begins with whispers on a breeze.
XVI. anecdata, n.
While my lunch cooks, the daughter who runs the cash register tells me her family’s history — how busy they used to be, before Main Street became a highway, starving side-street restaurants like theirs.
XVII. foul case, n. and adj.
It’s so hard to not step in when your kids — so full of passion, energy — stumble over their words, to not take the reins. They need to learn this, do it themselves. You're just there to support them.
XVIII. haggis-headed, adj.
My heart hurts as she gives me my lunch. I want to help them, and every other family-owned business in my district, but — but. I stumble over my words. I can make promises all day; promises don’t help people. The laws need to change.
XIX. witches’ broom, adj.
Every day more kids show up to prepare for a protest on the 14th. They complain about their families’s stores struggling, not being able to get anywhere on their own. They call Councilmember Meyers a fungus.
XX. whoo-ee, int.
I wake up Sunday morning while you’re making breakfast, my phone bursting with notifications. The top one is a message from my assistant with a link to an article in the Tribune in which Councilmember Meyers calls my plan “unamerican,” “an attack on our way of life.” A day before the vote and he pulls this. I hate how little I’m surprised.
XXI. enoughness, n.
The kids decided on a walkout at the end of 4th period leading to a march to City Hall. They timed it so they would arrive just as arguments on the infrastructure bill would begin. They created signs, flooded Instagram and Snapchat, built a crowd to overwhelm the sidewalk they’d have to take there.
XXII. dwaal, n.
As the session gets closer, I sift through the notecards of my speech, eyeing the window to the courtyard. You said your students would arrive as the session began. What if they don’t show up? What if I fumble my words? I miss the gavel marking the start of the session; Meyers takes the floor.
XXIII. gyaff, n.
One of my students in sixth period tells me some parents joined the march with wagons full of water bottles and granola bars from Costco. Only one-third of my students remained at the end of the day. I’m out of the parking lot before the buses.
XXIV. genericide, n.
Meyers moves through the usual talking points as a crowd forms outside. They pour in, all these kids, fill the balcony, signs waving about their independence. His speech drowns in their cacophony.
XXV. garderobe, n.
I have to park in the library parking lot a block away from city hall, because all the street parking is taken. Some students shout to get my attention from the middle of the crowd outside. They clear a path for me to get inside to the staircase to the spectator balcony. I look over a mountain range of heads just in time to see you stand up to begin your speech.
XXVI. woofle, v.
“What my colleague fails to realize is that our community is growing. This growth is beyond the comprehension of our predecessors, who fervently believed that sprawling outward was their best option — an option supported by the modern real estate community and some members of city council. “The sprawl is unsustainable, both in a physical and a communal sense. We have neighborhoods extending out of our city limits into unincorporated areas, but the children in those incorporated neighborhoods attend schools within our limits, within our care. Those children — like the children filling the balconies now — need to have access to our city’s assets: our parks, our schools, our stores. They must be able to traverse the land in our care effectively and safely- whether that be by foot, bike, or public transit. “The dependence on cars has hurt our local businesses. Many small stores, the family businesses that built this city in the first place, are struggling, collapsing due to a declining customer base, primarily due to the siphoning of routes to Main Street and their shops being one block too far off that path. “This bill, which I authored, allocates city funds to the creation and maintenance of resources to fix these problems: sidewalks on streets within school zones, bike lanes on major roads throughout the city, buses with more accessible and reliable routes. “Certain members of this council have called this plan ‘unamerican.’ And, they are are correct if we only take an antiquated view of what America was. If we look at what America is, what America could be, this plan is as American as it gets. “The vitriol with which some members of city council use to denigrate this bill is antithetical to the promises they’ve made to support their constituents and their community. “We should be fighting for our community. We should be fighting for the independence of empowerment of our youth. We should be fighting for our local businesses. We need this bill to aid in these fights. “Thank you.”
XXVII. antical, adj.
Thunderous applause as you step away from the podium. Your name chanted by students in the balcony. Your face so full of pride, confidence, triumph. You wave when you find my face in the crowd. My heart is so full. I love you so much. I am so proud of you.
XXVIII. jump-up, n.
The path of progress has a steep incline, many switchbacks, but eventually, we will reach the summit; the future — the line where the sky and ridge meet. There is no one else I’d rather be on this journey with than you.
A Tsunami Advisory
She asks if you’re awake. Your eyes struggle open. Her silhouette blurry in your tent’s doorway against the morning’s overcast sky. Your throat attempts a word. She tells you not to panic — a volcano erupted across the ocean; the National Weather Service said there’s a chance for a tsunami along the coast where you’re camping. “Not a warning, an advisory.” You nod your head, eyes closing. She zips the tent flap closed as she leaves. Brisk air bites your face, which peeks out of your cocoon. You see waves tower over the shore, lift your tent, rip its stakes out of the ground. You wonder whether you and your sleeping bag would float along the surf to the cranberry fields down the road. You wonder whether that would be the worst outcome. You see your classroom; your students; a painted rock gifted by one, defaced with a slur by another, left under your desk. You feel failure, consider the possibility they would be better off with another teacher. You remind yourself: your brain does this all the time, there is evidence to the contrary. You can’t see any.
haikus for distance learning
each section is based on the oxford english dictionary’s word of the day from september, 2020.
i. delibation, n.
dim empty classroom desks shoved together chairs stacked you’re alone in here
ii. situla, n.
yawn walk brew sit meeting in fifteen minutes you need to wake up
iii. smack talk, n.
a grid of faces nodding and mumbling about low expectations
iv. chin-stroking, n.
should you say something they all seem to agree maybe you don’t know
v. bird colonel, n.
your principal closes with encouraging words a hurricane’s eye
vi. croquembouche, n.
mailbox run before first class a stack of cans along the top it might not be so bad
vii. wallyball, n.
first live lesson camera chat emails lecture ricochet endlessly
viii. coze, v.
office chair swivels does not move away from the desk vines around your legs
ix. dep, n.
you try to build bridges with students made of pixels something’s lagging
x. ruby murray, n.
in your eye’s corner relics from previous students convoluted contexts
xi. walklet, n.
passing period mask up stretch your legs in the hall see only ghosts
xii. pronoid, n.
no laughs after your jokes all thirty-eight students muted you’re sure you’re funny though
xiii. sea-puss, n.
your eyes strain head aches dim your screens close the blinds blink slow fight against the current
xiv. gypit, adj.
you cover your desk with toys you name and talk to stave off loneliness
xv. yat, n.
use abbreviations codes other learning tools make something together
xvi. chritophany, n.
look into the ceiling a smile there says you’re doing great maybe just seeing things
xvii. dulciloquy, n.
afternoon classes with faces tired anxious sad help them feel welcome
xviii. cannet, n.
last class ends you sit first time in what feels like days lump of exhausted flesh
xix. transitarium, n.
fight sleep need to plan figure out how to help your kids sketch diverging scaffolds
xx. ambidexterity, n.
talk chat help assess teacher counselor tech support you wear so many hats
xxi. rooked, adj.
cover your walls with your students's artwork it’s their house too
xxii. headwark, n.
temples in a c-clamp eyes gripped in wool mittens too much screen time
xiii. pupil-monger, n.
wake up the next day ready to try it all again always getting better
xxiv. kibitz, v.
a tech issue try turning it off then back on a rote response
xxv. nutual, adj.
you blank on a word wave your arms to convey its meaning somehow they get it
xxvi. titanolatry, n.
think before you speak they’ll remember how they felt here don’t be that white guy
xxvii. adimplete, v.
log in see hundreds of messages in your inbox monday morning
xxviii. antennation, n.
sit for an hour grade respond delete archive reach them as best you can
xxix. arr, int.
spirit week hat day make do with what you have take pride in your work
xxx. ruderal, adj. and n.
this year isn’t what you thought it to be dig your roots deep
the spring we lost
i remember the morning the order came that said we had to stay at home. snow dusted the streets, coated the soccer field of my school a week before the equinox. my coworkers gathered around a computer to hear the governor say our schools would close, we would learn at a distance. i remember the morning i set up a workspace in our apartment. each of my computers started updating— spiraling dots, loading bars, flickering numbers. stuck sitting and waiting as the sun rose through the blinds, spruce leaves swayed in the wind. i remember an afternoon— maybe multiple— where i laid on the couch, papers to grade scattered on the coffee table. i turned away from them and watched warm light come in though the sliding glass door, flowers bloom in the planters across the alley. i remember the afternoon where i forgot what day it was after marking the day off the calendar in our kitchen, after checking my phone multiple times to make sure, even after saying it out loud. maybe time is one of those human constructs that only exists insofar as it is useful. matte grey sky gives way to patches of blue. crows peck at the garbage bag sticking out of our neighbor’s overstuffed bin. squirrels jump between the thin pine trunks outside the window by our mantle.
You want to be a teacher.
You want to be a teacher. Maybe you had a great math teacher in middle school; maybe you had an awful history teacher in high school. It doesn’t really matter— you decide to go to college. You struggle with the idea that there is a singular source of information, that there is a singular way to learn or master a skill. You get a piece of paper signed by a man you’ll never meet that says you are a competent educator. You sub in a couple school districts. You call it “gigging” to make it feel more temporary, impermanent— a low tide at dawn. Your lesson ideas come like meteor showers— somewhat predictably, all at once. You put them in a folder on your MacBook called “One Day.” You get an interview. They ask you: “Why do you want to teach language arts at Rainier Middle School?” You want a job. You get hired in the middle of the school year. You adopt the building’s rules, their calendar, their lessons. The next year, an idea grabs you, won’t let go. You deviate from the calendar, tell no one. Your students get excited. Your students get engaged. Your students show you YouTube videos they found because of you. You get a new administrator. He demands fidelity to a curriculum he never used; one he knows next to nothing about. You feel walls sprout from the ground around you. You try to become a leader. You run a program only to see everything you built get thrown away. You apply to another position only to get turned down by building and district administrators. He talks to you like you don’t know how to teach. Your district liaison talks to you like you don’t know how to teach. Your new program head talks to you like you don’t know how to teach. Maybe you don’t know how to teach. There is a good five minutes between when you arrive in your parking spot and when you exit your car where you sit and breathe. You don’t know what you want.