"In the story 'Dancing Girls' why does the neighbor vacuum and then dump the dust in the corners? It doesn't make any sense."
"And why are the girls dancing? Why did they leave?"
"Uhh, I don't remember. To be perfectly honest, I remember Ann who is set apart from the neighbors she talks about, but I didn't get that far in my reading."
Guess who failed here? Guess who spoke the last sentence in response to the two students' questions? I did. Me. The teacher. The one who creates the syllabus. The one who makes the reading assignments. The one who is supposed to lead students to new experiences. Here it is, day six of the semester, and I had no answer for the clarification students were seeking because I had miscalculated the time it would take me to get all seven short stories read. Monday and Tuesday had been snowdays, Wednesday I handed out the syllabus that was created before the snowdays, Thursday class time was dedicated to reading, and here it is Friday, and I had not read two of the stories: "The Dancing Girls" by Margaret Atwood and "The Chaste Clarissa" by John Cheever.
Oh, I had read them before, many times, but the details escaped me. That is why I take my own advice and keep track of plots, settings, characters, ironic twists, figurative language, in my notebook. Every time I assign these stories, I read them like I have never read them before because I can remember big picture ideas, but the details leave my memory as soon as we move from short stories to poetry.
But I've since read the stories and answers to the students questions come back to me. The boarder was quirky, odd, unstructured. He left piles of dust in the corners. He and his friends had girls over and they danced the plaster off the ceiling, so the landlady kicked them out. Ann, the boarder who shared a bathroom with the rarely seen, odd neighbor, merely sat by the door, smoked cigarettes and waited for the party to leave because she was afraid to peek out of her room. She missed out on the ruckus by living her careful life.
I have answers for the students now. But it is too late. The class period is over. But another one begins tomorrow: a fresh start, a clean slate, a new beginning; I am striving to be the prepared teacher, the cliche in the classroom who leads students to new experiences.