Tag Archives: substitute teachers

#141 Teaching Without A Voice


I begin the cruelest month of National Poetry Writing hopefully recovering from a bout of laryngitis and ready to go back to the classroom.  Thus, the inspiration for my first poem of 30, one for every day of the month of April, comes not from a prompt, but from this:

Teaching Without A Voice

is difficult,
almost as difficult as
what circus performers
do without nets, or
more apt, what a musician
might do without his

I was losing my voice
and I told my 9th graders,
I’m losing my voice so please
don’t make me have to talk
over the top of your talking.

They then proceeded
to make me talk over the top
of their talking so that at
the end of the day all I could
do was whisper and it wasn’t
sexy or anything like that.

It hurt. And early this morning,
voice not yet functioning,
the voiceless teacher
calls in sick, thinking,
there’s no chance I can
teach without a voice,
but something goes wrong
in the process (something about
filing on-line for a sub at 3 o’clock
in the morning) and no substitute
shows up.

Unfed, unwashed,
lunch unpacked, barely able
to stand upright after a
sleepless night of coughing,
I, the teacher without a voice,
stand in my classroom trying
to figure out how I can
introduce Neruda to 11th graders
and the Holocaust to 9th graders
in a whisper, when, less than
ten minutes before kids walk
in the room, a substitute arrives
somewhat miraculously.
In a whisper, because it’s all I can do,
I go over the plans, point to the piles of handouts,
and walk out of the room waving goodbye
to the students already there,
many of whom wish me better health.

I leave the building
crossing my fingers for a minor train wreck,
something somewhat less than a
complete disaster
and for a voice to return
to its rightful owner.

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