I imagine something like this:
Carefully picking up each of the packets, still warm from their journey through the guts of the printer, you have a brief fantasy of writing each one by hand, copied as if you were a medieval monk. You shove the compulsion into the back of your mind, reminding yourself that you do not have quite so much time, patience, nor desire as to complete such an arduous task.
Nevertheless, you hole-punch the packets and try to ignore the reality that most–perhaps all– will end up torn apart carelessly, lost, ignored, and doodled-upon. You had each of the poems, short stories, and novels carefully selected, from years ago, probably while you were in college and still enamored with the beauty of the world. Perhaps that is a reason that you had to calmly push the excitement out of your voice when you received a nervous phone call from a mother, asking if you would teach this class. Going back to the classroom would return you to a younger, more idealistic self, one that has not been worn down by years of academia.
You knock the papers against the table, clipping them together, taking a moment to stare through each of the holes, perfectly lined up. You pick one copy from the top and put it into the white binder next to you. You will underline and highlight and scrawl in the margins, preparing each work for presentation to a class full of eager students.
You also print out syllabuses, worksheet templates, more packets, an article about keeping a commonplace book, a table of contents organizing information by semesters and quarters, offering headings for each division of time and material. You label tabs, make notes on post-its, thumb through the worn volumes of your favorite books, take deep breaths when you feel yourself becoming too excitable.
Your philosophy is this: these children will have plenty of time to read books like The Scarlet Letter and Romeo and Juliet. You need to give them something else. Not necessarily better, but certainly more obviously beautiful. So you vow to get them to read The Good Earth, Gilead, Till We Have Faces, and Winesburg, Ohio. You will introduce them to marginalia, new words, and the questions that humans have been asking themselves for centuries.
After many hours of preparation, you arrive to class on the first day, annotated novels tucked away in your messenger bag, next to the folder full of packets that you intend to distribute to your pupils, next to the binder that you carefully assembled out of your ideas and hopes and dreams. You carefully remove the binder, place it on the podium, opened to the first page. You only have a moment before the first teenager files in, and then they all do: sullen and rambunctious, all at once.
You hand out the packets and try not to be too upset when several make faces at the heft they have. It doesn’t feel like much to you, after years of handling biology textbooks that felt like bricks in your bag with their thin pages.
Next down the rows of desks come the syllabuses, then the notebooks you bought them in the hopes that at least a few would begin commonplacing. As you begin to speak and they come to attention–some snapping, some languidly coming into focus like a behemoth river monster floating downstream.
You briefly explain classroom expectations, your bathroom policy, what books and short stories and poems you intend for them to examine and learn to love. You wince again when you mention that you want them to memorize a poem each quarter and the class collectively groans. What’s wrong with committing beautiful words to heart? you think, doubting yourself for a moment before you decide that it must be because they are young and new to the idea of good literature. They will learn to love it.
The second groan comes when you explain the final. It is not an exam–you always thought that was a bad way to test these skills–but to write a paper analyzing any book of literary merit. Seven page minimum. You feel yourself stepping again toward bitterness, toward a mindset reminiscent of an elderly man mumbling about “today’s youth”. You try to bury it like you did before.
And so the year goes: some things met with silent acceptance, but many punctuated by groans and complaints as if the mere idea of work was comparable to childbirth. Sure, there are one or two students to linger in your classroom, risking tardies, to talk about something they enjoyed, or something they desire to understand, but not very many. You find yourself focusing on the students who did not stay after class.
This is the same for each assignment, each class discussion, even the final paper. You receive at least five papers that are not seven pages with a shrug and a nonchalant excuse. You resist the urge to stand up and shout: This is your education that you are neglecting! This is your life, your future! You hopeless fool! You remain seated and calm, though. It would not be meet to “freak out”.
When, at the end of the year, the mother who called you up first asks you if you will come back, you politely decline. You have satisfied your dream of becoming an english teacher, and understand that you will never be like the ones that you remember so fondly. They had a strength of character and a hardiness of soul that you will never obtain, so you return to your laboratory bench and the satisfaction that you are doing your own part to create good in the world, even if it is not something quite so formative as teaching.