Things My Students Don’t Know

Rebecca Schwab


Sometimes when I’m supposed to be keeping time—freewrite for five minutes, two minutes left for the quiz—most times, really, I’m just spacing out. I forget, often, that you're there in the room with me, your twenty faces fading into nothing like bats in the twilight.

I used to look in the mirror before classes and now I don’t. I’m not sure if that means I care more or less about what I’m doing.

I constantly wonder—when you snicker, when you whisper—if my fly is unzipped. It never has been, though once I taught for an hour and a half with the central button of my striped blouse popped open between the small breasts I inherited from my mother’s side. It was the same class during which I drew the tattoo from Kooser’s “Tattoo” on the board, though later, I saw that it resembled male genitalia so much more closely than it did a dripping dagger held in the fist of a shuddering heart.

Never in 31 years have I chewed and swallowed a jelly bean.

On Fridays, I look around the room hoping that none of you will be rapists or raped over the weekend. I try not to think that some of you might, or probably will, statistically.

When you write poems about cutting yourselves, about regretting the losses and takings of virginity, about your dead parents, dead dogs, the best friends you want to apologize to but can’t, how you’ve lost your favorite sweaters and it feels like layers of skin are missing, too—I am sorry. I am sorry and the only way I can think of to help is to read your words and point out the adverbs you should eliminate, so that the dead dog/lost friend/gone sweater is the most dead, most lost, most gone image writing on paper can convey.

Listen—good teachers don’t sleep with their students; so you, the one or two per year who try for mysterious and sultry when it just comes out vacant and creepy, respect what I’m trying to do up here but really yourselves more than that, because selling your secrets and fragile parts or even hoping to will haunt you in ways you can’t understand at nineteen and later won’t want to.

I am only in command in the classroom. If I see you at the supermarket, in an aisle at the shoe store, standing in line at the movies, I will stammer and shy like a drunken pony.

I will forget your names but won’t mean to.

I will wave to strangers I think are you.

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Rebecca Schwab serves as acquisitions editor for Leapfrog Press, teaches writing at SUNY Fredonia and contributes regularly to The Observer in Dunkirk, New York. Her work has been published in Fringe and The Future Fire; it is forthcoming in Brevity and Slipstream's "Rust, Dust, and Lust" issue.