“I open the year with a joke. ‘My name is Mr. White, like the color of my [the students look expectantly toward my skin] walls.’ Cue enough laughter to sustain the joke next period.”
Read more of “Starry White.”
“Today, I had a rather innocent and ill-informed student inspect an atlas on the wall (one with only the boundaries of countries but no printed names), point to Cambodia, and say, ‘I think that’s South Koran.'”
Read more of “Geography and Centipedes.”
“My classroom is a block like those you stack in first-grade.”
Read more of “Teaching Tapas”
My classroom is a block like those you stack in first-grade. Desks stand like lines of British soldiers, and students shout and throw rulers and text each other in a war of attention. My desk is the general’s tent—to the side of the parade grounds and barracks, capable at a moment’s notice to survey the ranks (all I have to do is lift my eyes from my screen to review a regiment using phones to redo eyelashes).
From this distance, it’s difficult to tell if a student is passing notes digitally or using a calculator to complete physics problems. With a war weary sigh, sans mustache, cigar, and epaulets, I rise from my command to remind the infantry that the assignment is due in five minutes.
Sometimes I’ll see a student staring out the window at the end of the hall. But what does she see out there that holds her attention? I know from experience there’s only a gray lot, cars, the track field, the tennis court—all yellow and hazy behind the dusty glass.
But I don’t think she’s looking at anything in particular.
Maybe it’s a mood she senses on the other side of the pane. Across the gold beer plains, coming from distant mountains.
A feeling she won’t find among white walls that slide into a maze of locked rooms and lockers. Halls guarded by ceiling cameras and attentive teachers.
Out there? Streets and side-streets. The brown roofs of suburbia. Highways weaving with the hills like little gray veins. And patches of trees binding shadow-flooded plains to the homes of coyotes.
Sometimes I know what she sees.
For anyone worried that students don’t receive an education in physical health at my school:
Unit 1: Underwater Basket Weaving
Unit 2: Underwater Basket Weaving, Advanced
Unit 3: Creative Applications for Underwater Basket Weaving
Unit 4: Project-based Underwater Basket Weaving
Unit 5: Intro to AP Underwater Basket Weaving
Unit 6: Historical Criticisms of Underwater Basket Weaving as a Replacement for English Language Arts, and Rebuttals
When I wake, the cats are at the door—they want to slip into bed and lie in my warm vacancy. One is black with a teacup on her chest, the other gray as elephant’s breath with muted stripes. In the darkness, I fumble against their fur, locating rump, scruff, finally head, and I pet what I can find until they roll over and expose their tummies—a trap.
Under the bluing shade of early morning they are furry dead spiders.
Cats aren’t the only parasite squirming in the bedwaters. My wife, snorting like the Union Pacific, snakes her cold fingers and toes toward me, seeking flickers of heat like sausages over a campfire.
Shower. Toothpaste. Size 40 pants instead of last year’s 38. An XLT button-down that’s starting to hug. The cats follow me to the living room as I pick up a satchel and keys. Jenny lets me pet her back. She has a funny habit of bursting forward when my hand reaches her tail, to circle around for another run.
Remy sits on the couch, feet tucked under his chest like a chicken in a coop. I think of saying goodbye to the snoring pile of hair in the other room, but my wife doesn’t work until 9.
Still, what if I never see her again?
I open the door and step into a world devoid of Julie and Jenny and Remy and the little routines of morning before the light.
I open the year with a joke. “My name is Mr. White, like the color of my [the students look expectantly toward my skin] walls.” Cue enough laughter to sustain the joke next period. But now it’s noticeable, the harsh white of the room, a combination of paint and the clinical spray of ceiling bulbs. We are as illuminated and shadowless as models in a photoshoot, sans forgiveness.
There is one window: a square portal on the door. When I sit at my desk, I can see “Starry Night” through it, one of the Van Gogh prints distributed through the school. There’s an apocryphal story of how he painted that landscape in a sanatorium. Unable to see the city from his window, he imagined it in his hand. It gets me wishing they’d let us paint our madness on the canvas of our walls. Why let filth color us? Scuffs, gum, “fuck school” in blue pen, a poster of an iguana saying “character is who you are when no one is watching.” Let swirling blacks, blues, and yellows, stars and cities and black towers roil down the hall, drowning disquiet and sterility of asepsis.