Yesterday was my first day back to school, which I started by spraying bathroom air freshener all over my head. In my excitement, I’d grabbed the Glade instead of the Garnier. I didn’t want to add hairspray on top of that, so I went to campus a little flyaway, yet disinfected and citrusy. When I got to the English Department, the AC was not working very well: I walked in to find office workers and faculty members moving about in slow motion, smiling their welcome-back smiles through sheens of sweat. I joined this halting parade, killing 99.9% of the germs and viruses in my path.
Once in the classroom, it was back to offering myself up to the gods of America’s Future. I made myself call out all of my students’ names, first and last, mangling them as I went, hoping that the laugher at my expense would go in the bank so I could withdraw it later when my students start disliking me for the grades they get. I left my last class of the day with sagging sanitized hair, chapstick caked around my mouth, and sweaty feet. Yum.
Yet, it was a good day. A very good day. Teaching is one thing that I can say I was born to do, despite what anybody else might say. Going into a classroom to face twenty-five representatives of America who expect me to further them along whatever path they’re on is, for the most part, a complete pleasure on my part. And when it’s not a pleasure—when the grades are not good or I accidentally make fun of someone’s birth defect or I wear my shirt inside out—the saving grace is just being there, lost in teaching. I could always teach and forget a broken heart for at least those 75 minutes; I could teach and not feel terror that my dad had cancer. I had to teach a few days after my cat died and I didn’t cry for 75 minutes in a row, which was a record at the time.
So here is to a new school year: the hesitant laughter and forgivable errors, the flying time and unplanned pregnant pauses—the lessons in public speaking, both intended and not.