Memoirs of a Failed High School English Teacher

I never did get the hang of teaching, unfortunately. There were days when it seemed that I was so close, where the stuffy air of this classroom seemed electric with the nearness of revelation, that if I could just find the right words or the right tone of voice, all that potential would ground out spectacularly and everything would be different, vibrant, alive. And if it never happened there was always tomorrow, always next week, next semester, next year. Always another book, another short story, another poem; maybe this next one will be the one that does it, maybe these characters, these sentences, these old passions… ah, well. It never happened, not once. It wasn’t enough that I loved what I gave them, loved it sometimes so desperately that it was hard to breathe, hard to speak, loved it so painfully that I’d have to blink the tears out of my eyes by the end of class; that never mattered.

I don’t blame my students. They did everything I asked of them, more than anyone else would have expected, certainly more than the other teachers gave them credit for. “What do you want to load them down with all this kruft for?” Mr. Caniff asked me one time. “They won’t sit still for half of this.” Mr. Caniff taught physics, I think, or maybe it was horticulture. I forget. “I want to teach it to them,” I said. “What other reason is there?”