Author's Note: I spend much of my time these days working with first year teachers as they make their way into their new careers. I always want to assure them—from the jump—that things are particularly hard at the beginning of one's teaching career—just as it is in the middle, and at the end. Teaching adolescents is a tough--and rewarding—way to earn a living. These poems—hyperbolic and grim though they might be—represent an attempt to capture my experience as a young, inexperienced, and very mediocre teacher, beginning in 1970, fifty short years ago.
The Short Route
The principal, Mr. Moran, took one look at me and, though he said, “Nice handshake,” he was thinking, this young man’s a tin can about to be run over by a truck. But what could he do? He needed a body up on four and should my skinny ass tumble from the classroom it would hardly make a sound so long as I aimed for the bushes the city had planted around so maybe the kids would see some green on their way in, and they’d forget this was the Bronx, 1970. And though Nate (Tiny) Archibald had walked these streets, played these very courts, chances were great none of them were him so, everyone better get their ass to school. History will record, and I hope kindly, that no one took the short route out of Room 431, though little learning took place there— except for the guy whose handshake had gotten him the work he hadn’t really earned.
Walow, gonna torch your room, someone hollers when I put the date on the board, breaking the stupefaction of another dawn filled with yawning and carrying on about the work they’ll never do. The others stagger in even more sleep-deprived and seek a place to rest their heads. Foolishly—and, I tell myself, in the spirit of the day— I close my eyes and make them go away. In their place: a battalion of young worthies in red silk cummerbunds, a brigade of sweet virgins adorned in lace ready all to storm the hill of higher expectations. When I come back from my brief vacation— someone’s strewn an array of Gummies ‘round my desk. They might provide some cushion should I fall as I run to save a life in a corner of the room where they’re fashioning a noose from the cord of a busted shade. If it’s my neck they’re after, they’ll get no argument from me. Just cut me down and carry me out, but file the appropriate report on my behalf: I might be fired if I don’t submit a complete and accurate account of all the learning I’ve inspired.
©2020 Alan Walowitz
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