I have a confession. For me, it’s never really about who they’re dating or last night’s game. After twenty-five years, perhaps I have become distanced from my students, maybe more transactional. The beginning of the year is the worst. Six sections of Mikaylas and Jasons. It is all disconnection—the intimidating obligation to form community. It is associating names—always and only arbitrary—with hair color, height, or glasses. I don’t feel connected to the crowd. They probably scare me more than anything.
Until I read their writing. I will from then on associate them with their body of work. I will remember them by their revisions. Know them through their sentences.
It doesn’t matter where they start—if they are crazy repetitive, short on ideas, prone to use the Thesaurus in a distracting way, gifted and heading to Columbia. I don’t care if someone told them you can’t start a sentence with because. It doesn’t make me enjoy it less if they’re not headed to college. No matter what, their syntax fascinates me. Each topic is a strange present. What do they offer me in those words?
Sometimes I have to kind of pretend to care about their activities and boyfriends. I quickly discourage their hints about who parties and am uninterested in their opinions of other teachers. But I will read every extra poem or essay they proffer. Their writing is the most personal and vulnerable thing I receive. They can share all those other details with anyone. I have to admit it’s most important to me that they leave a better writer. Who else can offer them that?
Tracy Tensen teaches English at Gilbert High School.