Bilious Thoughts on Teaching



Meditations on Teaching


Students ask me why I take their picture every day. An ancient Nikon.  Smile!

I explain that they won’t be in my class ever again.  I want a picture of them. “But we come every day.”  I scour the floor and show them the dead skin left from yesterday.  “That’s from the person who came yesterday.” “But we came yesterday.”  I make an album every year.  180 pictures.  8 1/2 by 11.  I cover the walls with them so they can see the progress they’ve made.


Students pretend I’m a person.  I see it in their eyes as they imagine it: He sleeps!  He eats!  Imagine crumbs of apple cobbler on his lips!  He’s thundering at me because I didn’t do my homework, but tomorrow, he’ll have mayonnaise in the corner of his mouth.  One must be tender with them, the uninformed miscreants.

One mustn’t ridicule them when they giggle at my untied shoes or snicker when I stoop to pick up a pencil.  This is the stuff of The Munich Rallies, the smoky flambeaus in the night showing the broad, hopeful faces begging the podium to spit farther so they and they alone can feel the cool moisture of his hierophantic drool.


Teachers get down. Pirandello, the Italian playwright, also taught school. This was his grim vision: They’re an abyss.  I look out into them, I sound my words out and  hear the unending voice with no walls to echo.  Their inattention: a line of enemy eyes along the horizon.  Thousands of them.  Zulus at dawn.  They will not listen.  They are only waiting until I am silent.  I fear that moment.  When I am silent.  I will still hear the crickets and the cicadas in the trees.  The flambeaus will still light the compound and flicker, but there will be a different scent in the air. The scent of blood.  The ululating tongues will shriek over the hill, animal, unyielding. They’re coming.


My cardiologist is heartless. He enters eating a cheeseburger and drinking a chocolate milkshake. As he looks at my record, he pronounces my name: Grzouxtss? Gbodnss? Hchootns? I say it slowly three times. I dent the dentals. I hiss the sibilants. He puts his cheeseburger down. He can’t say it. He smells like onion and has clumps of cheeseburger in his teeth.  As the nurse shaves my chest to hook me up to the EKG, he grabs me firmly by the shoulders and looks into my eyes.  There’s a look of discovery in his eye.  He has big ears and a little pointed head.  “I know why you have this flutter,” he said. “If I spent a lifetime teaching people how to pronounce your name, I’d have one, too.”


If I were a saint, perhaps I could forgive them.  For what?  For doing what they cannot help.  No.  Too easy.  Too fat with psycho-exoneration.  Of course, they can help it.  Just because they have spent untold hours staring passively at throbbing screens…


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