workzine

Lauren Henley, 8/21/2011

Current Occupation: Substitute teacher and private tutor
Former Occupation: Social Recreation Coach for the disabled, nanny, waitress…
Contact Information: Lauren Henley has had more jobs than some and less jobs than most. A recent graduate of Pacific University of OR, Lauren will be taking some time off to think about what she has learned in college. She is the co-creator and co-editor of the online literary journal Aperçus Quarterly.

###

Monster Truck

There are five minutes of what is called “free time.”
I ask the sophomore boys in the back row
about their fathers, hovering over their desks to keep it private.
James Truck tells me he doesn’t know where his dad is
and I nod and lower my face
so that he doesn’t have to see my adult eyes
and how they tend to say what I think.

The boy to his left says his father comes and goes.
The boy to his right says they take care of each other
and pats James Truck on the back with a gloved hand.
I am just the substitute teacher and I am
crossing an invisible line, gliding right past it, dipping
my red pens like oars
into the reflective surface of a lake
I might drown in.

I ask them what kind of fathers they will be,
and their almost manly cheeks blush like peaches.
Good dads they say. They echo each other,
Good dads.

James tells me he will name his son Monster.
He might be looking down
at an imaginary baby.
Monster Truck, he says.
I laugh but his friends don’t.
They smile but they don’t laugh.
They know better.
He’s had this name
picked out for awhile.

#

Möbius Strip: Substitute Teaching

I stand at the front of the room
I say let’s get started     I say
get out your notebooks
and other arbitrary things     I
remember them being taller
looking more like men     I
remember them being smarter
so smart I had to trust them
even when their driving scared me
or their hands     what their eyes
might not be saying     or were
and what that language could not
grant me     They jumped car batteries
for the girls who’d left their lights on
They carried Fix-A-Flat and spare tires
They were ready for something to break
They judged my measurements
in inches    in centimeters
They knew the math of curves
They knew the math of flat parts
the hidden parts     the parts
like spider webs
that hang like gathered cloth
Parabolas     Parabolas
When you know one word
one single word in language not your own
you must say it whenever you can
Their math had three or more syllables
Calculus     Trigonometry     Algebra II
And now I am their substitute teacher
I stand at the front of the room
I say let’s get started
I call their names
I repeat the same words     I practically chant
Rusty needs to leave early
It’s almost guaranteed I’ll be asked my age
my first name     my height
and how come I’m subbing in French
if I don’t speak French
the same for science history math
They tell me that their teacher reads
to them     they don’t read to themselves
Jimmie draws dollar signs on his hands
I read a story from Bradbury’s Illustrated Man
I read it loud and with feeling
because this is what they want     to be read to
like children     And I remember
them being taller     looking more like men
I don’t know if they like what I am reading
and then     paper airplanes
wads of paper     I stand at the front of the room
I call names     I explain the assignment
I repeat myself like someone looking
for a certain street     like someone
who needs help     I explain the assignment
and they say what     they say they are
confused     Jimmie broke his pencil
And what’s my age     my first name
I am being carried to the top of a volcano
by a band of short and troubled people
And then     one of them screams penis
and is handed a crumpled dollar
by the student sitting behind him     I
can’t help it     I laugh     It feels so good
and then      I tell the boy to leave
he storms out     pushing over his chair
Paraboloas     Parabolas     Parabolas

#

back to WORK

  1. Awesome. I worked as a substitute teacher, and you summed it up perfectly. Well done!

  2. I loved these. It’s a quiet morning and I’m tired from an all day hike. I’ve never taught teenagers and never will. I loved these.

  3. I’m a 33 year veteran of high school teaching. I really enjoyed these poems. I especially liked the image of “crossing the invisible line.”
    I substituted all of my first year in everything possible from Girls P.E. to advanced math classes. I’m an English/Social science guy…strictly. I now work with beginning teachers as a supervisor/mentor and I can’t wait to share your poetry with them; lots of wisdom here.

  4. Wow. Thank you for these. I’ve never read poems that gave a voice to the substitute teacher. Again, thank you.

  5. […] Teaching fully explored through two poems by Lauren Henley. […]

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