I was born and raised in Wichita, Kansas, and graduated from the (then new) M.F.A. program in creative writing in 1975. I live now in Lexington, KY, and—yes—am a rabid UK basketball fan. My two most recent books are Driving Late to the Party: The Kansas Poems and A Little Luck, which won the 2012 X.J. Kennedy Poetry Prize from Texas Review Press. For more information than anyone should have to know about me, go to my website: www.jeff-worley.com.
So You Want to Be a Teaching Assistant in English
Rent a tiny room half a mile from campus.
It will be winter, and all winter long
your radiator will be a cold slab of ribs.
Worse, it’s Wichita, or somewhere
not much better, and you were dealt
a 7 a.m. class.
On the sidewalk you move
in your monstrous coat like a moonwalker.
You follow the bouncing full moon
of your flashlight, like the dim beam
on a miner’s helmet, leading you
to English 101, Fiske Hall. Shivering
in their coats, the 28 students hate you
because it’s your fault the afternoon classes
were full. They hate you because it’s Wichita
and their hair is frozen to their heads.
And they really hate this first assignment—
Write about your most intense personal experience—
because their most intense personal experiences
kinds of things, or, worse, they’re still waiting
for an intense moment to occur to them,
some razory lightning bolt of experience
to rearrange their bland circuitry.
And you—you’re only a few years older
than them anyway and still don’t understand
the difference between a restrictive
and nonrestrictive clause so who are you—
unzippering your briefcase like their father
home from work—to dispense these nuggets
of wisdom you’ve pirated from Strunk and White . . .
double-spaced confessions to Kathys
and Karens and Jims who are simply
hoping to have something come back
without much blood spilled on it,
something that maybe you’ve even pronounced
Good! or Shows some potential.
But now you see Julie
in the corner staring at the circled D+, her rambling
rendition of the unhappy tryst between her dachshund
and a Mack truck, and she begins to cry, audibly,
because she’d poured her heart out and—OK--
there were fragments and run-ons and she just can’t get
the difference between there and their and they’re,
but her dog Fritz was, after all, an A+ kind of dog,
which should count for something, right? Why, her tears
seem to be asking, did I have to get a teacher who hates dogs
so much? And she leaves the classroom, shutting the door
gently, before you can think what to do. Perhaps
she’ll go hang herself or, worse, report you,
and you know you’ve got nothing the next hour
but a drill on dangling modifiers and ice
is etching little flowers on the windows
and now you’ve got to pee, and when it gets dead
quiet in the room and you’re standing there
with your tongue puddling in your mouth,
and half the students are eyeing the door Julie
escaped through, you realize, finally,
what it’s like to be in charge.
Credit: "So You Want to Be a Teaching Assistant in English" is included in Jeff's recent book. Driving Late to the Party: The Kansas Poems (available at www jeff-worley.com.)
©2015 Jeff Worley