workzine

Emily Strauss, 8/13/2012

Current Occupation: private tutor

Former Occupation: college and adult English and ESL teacher

Contact Information: I have written poetry my whole life and been a teacher my whole life. I have about four dozen poems in public in over two dozen small journals and online venues. I seldom wrote about my work, but sometimes tell stories of my daily life. Teachers have funny nightmares.

###

Starting Class

A student died after class last Thursday—
He went home, drank a beer, and went to sleep,
Had a heart attack. They told me before class
Tonight, you know, the one who sat in the front,
Smiling, older, they buried him on Sunday

And I stood there and considered mortality
Before their writing summaries, I had to announce
It, I have bad news— someone smiled
In confusion, he couldn’t have been over 45
A girl caught her breath, the eldest man took
Up a collection, I gave my last dollar
I was saving for the laundry.

Now what should I do with his homework?
Give it to his wife and two young sons?
I could drop it off the second story and let
It drift on the wind across the freeway.
How will I fill out the grade form?
Maybe I’ll leave it blank like the empty
Chair in front of my desk. If only he’d
Waited two weeks until after the final.

I wrote “deceased” next to his name
In my roll book. I guess they’ll figure it out.

#

The English Teacher’s History Class

Suddenly for unknown reasons
I am granted one class at the State college,
In history—
The United States in the Twentieth Century
And I am thrilled, but now in mid-semester
I realize in horror I’ve hardly met the class,
haven’t read one page of the ponderous text, dozens
of footnotes for each chapter, and must lecture
at an appointed hour I invariably miss.
This is my nightmare.

I’m desperate to arrive on time because even now
I remember a handful of eager faces in the front rows
of the theater whom I know have read the book
and expect a lecture of explication. I wonder if
a Socratic discussion of the day’s news would suffice.

In fact, I can’t reach the room, I will never make it.
I am lost hopelessly, the campus paths have changed,
the elevator malfunctions, I must find the correct hallway
or door, or pass through a maze of hotel corridors
or a shadowy bar full of smoke, the clock ticks
and once again I’ll never arrive, eager students will leave
disappointed—

I must read the next chapter
I must leave earlier next time
if I only knew the day and hour
if only I could prepare the inevitable
final exam, at least then I’d salvage
this poor class that has lasted years.

#

back to WORK

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  1. In high school the nightmare was the test I’d forgotten to study for. In college it was Finals Week and I realize I have not attended, not once, the class. As a teacher I sit before a rapt group of students and lecture them about the Boer War. Was it in South Africa? I know nothing about the Boer Wa,r but I begin talking anyway, making up more and more unlikely details. And the students sit before me, every last one attentive, scrolling out notes, eager and focused in a way that actually high school students never are. And I realize they will remember every word I have told them. They will go through life believing it all.

  2. In high school the nightmare was the test I’d forgotten to study for. In college it was Finals Week and I realize I have not attended, the class not once. As a teacher I sit before a rapt group of students and lecture them about the Boer War. Was it in South Africa? I know nothing about the Boer War, but I begin talking anyway, on and on, making up more and more unlikely details. And the students sit before me, every last one attentive, scrolling out notes, eager and focused in a way that actual high school students never are. And I realize they will remember every word I tell them. They will go through life believing every word of my nonsense.

  3. . . . and that’s another thing. Editing.

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