The 8 a.m. Class

By Kristian Wingo

5:30. The chiming bell alarm on your phone goes off.

You hit snooze and reach over your head to turn on the reading lamp. A bluish-white glow fills the pitch black room. You roll over and sleep for eight more minutes.

At 5:38 the bells start again and you hit snooze one more time and turn on your back. Your mind is almost awake now and already it’s wondering if Junwei will remember to print his essay and turn it in at 10 o’clock today. There are a few more moments of quiet and at 5:46 the alarm goes off again.

The bathroom, then the big green plastic cup in the kitchen. You drink all 16 ounces of water before you go back in the bedroom and sit on the edge of your bed to meditate.

Set the timer for ten minutes. Breathe in, breathe out. Just follow your breath.

In. Out. In. What am I teaching in reading today? Did I pick something or do I have to do that during lunch? Let it go. In. Out. In. Out. Four more months on my contract. I can find another job in four months. I could go to Korea again. I’m a much better teacher now. It’ll work out. Back to the breath. In. Out. How much time is left? Don’t check. Focus on the air going into your nostrils. In. Out. In. Out.

The app’s bell goes off and you sit up and rub your face. You put your slippers on and their flop against the carpet is the only sound in the whole apartment.

The hands of the small clock in your kitchen tell you it’s 6:03.

Boil water for tea and oatmeal. As it’s heating up, get two sandwich bags and bread from the cupboard, apples, baby carrots, and turkey and cheese from the fridge. Carrots and turkey sandwich go in the sandwich bags, all of it goes into a Walmart bag. You’ve eaten the same lunch since you were in grad school.

The tea and oatmeal are ready and you take them to your kitchen table. Your old computer takes awhile to warm up and your breakfast takes awhile to cool down, so you check the weather on your phone. Another cold one. Twitter. Same jokes from the same comedians, same news stories. Don’t click any of the links. It’s a waste of time. The Windows tone blares from the speakers and you hope the sleeping next door neighbors don’t hear it. It’s time to write. The clock in the bottom right corner of the computer screen says it’s 6:07. If you would have woken up after the first snooze, you would have an hour to write now, but that’s OK. It’s still better this way.

There’s a short story that you’re working on. As your fingers move on the keyboard and your eyes move across the screen, you forget that you’re in Missouri and that you have to teach at 8 a.m. When you look off at the corner of the table or a blank spot on the wall, you’re not really thinking about anything, just opening your mind to the story you’re trying to tell.

Then you hit a block. It’s 6:59 and you realize you’re reading a pdf of a high school textbook about the topography of the Midwest because you wanted to make the setting of your story as realistic as possible. You Google esker, moraine, and drumlin and soon it’s 7:04 and you rush off to take a shower and get dressed. You’re going to wear a button down, cardigan, and corduroys, like every other winter day. You put your watch on. It’s 7:12. You have five minutes to read before you have to head out to the bus stop.

7:17. You put on your boots and coat and leave your apartment. It is cold. You stuff your hands in your pockets and pull your mouth below the ridge of your winter coat.

There’s another person at the bus stop but you both just mumble a “Hello” through layers of wool and Gore-Tex. It’s January, the sky is a wintery grey, and it’s too cold to talk to anybody.

The bus pulls up and you board. The trip takes about fifteen minutes and you pull your book out again. This is the best place and time to read and you feel yourself relaxing a bit.

You pull the line at the bus stop next to the mosque and walk down the hill to McReynolds Hall. The cold wind is still trying to get into your coat through your collar.

You get into the warmth of the building at 7:38. You head up to the third floor, past the Missouri Review. They haven’t accepted any of the short stories you’ve written yet, but that was last year and this year you’ll write much more and much better. The fluorescent lights of the hallway are on but the doors are all closed. This is the seventh semester in a row that you’ve taught an 8 a.m. class and you’re used to the silent hall. You whistle some nonsense and check over your shoulder to see if anyone else heard it but you know there’s no one there.

You unlock your office, set down your backpack, unzip your coat, and press the on button of your computer. You go to the bathroom because you drank so much tea and water.

You come back, sit down in front of your computer screen, and look at the lesson plan you made yesterday. You’re still trying to wake up and you open the folder for level 4 writing instead of level 3 grammar. For a moment you’re confused and panic. Then you get the right file and go over what you had planned. Stuff from the book, worksheets already printed. It’s ready. You hear the noise of the stairwell door, feet shuffling, and whispered Chinese. It’s 7:49.

You like to enter the classroom right at 7:59, so there’s ten minutes to kill. The textbook is open in front of you and you go back over it one more time but you don’t really need to. The pull of internet news and Facebook and Reddit drags your hand to the mouse and you start queueing up tabs without really thinking about what you’re doing.

You stop yourself, close the browser and lean back in your chair. It’s 7:58 so you take your phone out and check the weather and Twitter again because you can’t sit still. You’ve been teaching for six years and you still get a little nervous before each class.

The time at the top of your phone says 7:59 so you grab your book and your handouts and walk across the hall to your class.

You enter the room and say “Good morning” in a quiet, warm voice to the students who are there already. A few of them smile and say “Good morning” back to you and a few of them have their heads down on their desks. Some of them woke up twenty minutes ago.

You turn on the projector and document camera and arrange your textbook and handouts so that they can be grabbed as soon as it’s time to use them.

More students trickle in and you greet them. You’re trying to warm the class up, get them ready to speak a foreign language even though their minds are still half asleep. Ask Mohammed why he’s drinking a Coke for breakfast. Tell Jingyi her Mizzou T-shirt is cool.

You give the stragglers another minute to trickle in. Soon all of them are there in their desks, waiting.

The clock at the back of the room reads 8:01. With a voice too loud for the morning, you begin.

“Good morning you guys. Let’s get started.”

And for the next fifty minutes, you just teach your lesson and let your students surprise you.