Construction Literary Magazine

Fall 2020

Never Tell Students You’re Sweating

Never Tell Students You’re Sweating

Photograph via Flickr by Don Harder

When the school started offering me classes, I became enamored with the idea of teaching, of providing students with the tools of becoming successful written communicators. I was also unemployed. I said yes. And yes. Yes, again. Therefore, I am teaching three sections of freshman composition, which is the maximum load. One cannot discuss freshman composition without discussing the freshman themselves, who will henceforth be known as First Class, Second Class, and Third Class. I’ll tell you about the first two today.

First Class is my class, my people. As people, they are good people. They’re chatty. Friendly. Lively. I have them first thing in the morning, so I don’t know if they’re high on coffee, or I’m high on coffee, but I’m usually in a good mood before, during, and after unless I’m getting on their assess for tardiness. First Class doesn’t like to be on time. But do you think First Class gives a shit when I say, “What do you think bosses will do when you’re late?”

No, they do not.

“Don’t worry,” they say. “We’d never be late to work.”

That’s reassuring. I lecture them about responsibility. I tell them about growing up. Being an adult means you’re on time to play the game. At night, I drink wine and write about sorrow.

I find that I’m very relaxed with First Class. I ask them about their weekends, and they’re honest with me. Very honest.

“I had traffic school,” one said.

“Ugh, I had to do that over the summer. What a nightmare,” I responded.

God. Really? Did I just tell my students I had to sit in traffic school this summer? To cover, I announced we were having a pop quiz.

“Take out a sheet of paper,” I said. “We’re going to see how much you remember from last week.”

Meanwhile, inside, I tried to remember what we did last week.

I like First Class. They’re consistently late, and many of them can’t string together a sentence, but they tell funny stories about their friends and joke with me about the traffic out on the 93.

Second Class makes me want to die. Academically, they score higher on essays. On a personal level, they have become a collective manifestation of the battle I have with my own self-esteem.

Hello! I say to them.


How was your weekend?

Blank stares.

Anyone do anything fun?

Dead, dead eyes.

I don’t even get a chance to be accidentally inappropriate because they can’t be civil with me. I think they know I’m full of shit. I’m always on edge in that class. They just do something to me. Something bad. They make me jittery and sweaty and depressed. I have them late in the afternoon. Insulin levels are down. The classroom is warm.

When I complain to veteran teachers, they say it’s just a bad time. They tell me I’ll learn to say no to late afternoon classes. I say they’re wrong; those kids hate my guts.

Last week, we were going through a sample argumentative essay. We hit a topic sentence, and I said, “See how that works as a support to your thesis?”

This girl raised her hand. “I don’t see that.”

I awkwardly explained it by repeating that the topic sentence gives support to a thesis, which was like defining a word with the same word. Smart, I am.

“But how?” she asked.

I knew the answer. I looked at the sentence, looked at the thesis, understood how it was functioning, but everyone was staring at me. I know they’re supposed to stare at me because I’m the teacher, but it was super fucking unnerving. I actually stammered. I’m not a stammerer.

“You know, because, you see, it just gives support, and . . .”

The girl cracked a smile as if to say, “I got you.”

Oh my god, I thought, as kids in the back snickered. This is the end of my life.

I’m the kind of person who can’t stand silence. When confronted with awkward silence, my filter shuts down and I just start saying whatever is in my head. This semester has been an exercise in control.

Don’t tell the students you are sweating. Don’t tell the students you are nervous. Don’t tell the students this is your first semester. Don’t tell the students you don’t know what the fuck you’re doing. Don’t tell the students you wish you had a drink. Don’t tell the students how you regret much of what you did and said when you were 18-22.

One of the guys who sits in the back of Second Class gets up and leaves about the same time every day. He’ll come back after about five minutes. I guess he goes to the bathroom? I guess he can’t wait? I’m supposed to call him out. Hey, Kid. Do you get up and go to the bathroom in other people’s classes or just mine? Underneath all that, in my mind, I’m sitting in a little ball rocking back and forth wondering why he doesn’t like me.

They all sit in their seats with their phones in their laps texting or Facebooking or whatever kids these days do. I see them do it, and I start to feel awkward, and so I just don’t address it. I mentioned this in passing to a veteran teacher who said to me, “They don’t do that in my class. They know what I’ll do.”

That’s the problem. They don’t know what I’ll do. But neither do I. I should figure this out.