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A Teacher’s Guide to Keeping Time

By Kate Finegan

beat: the time it takes for the chalk to fall because your hands are sweating and to wonder if the students know you’re sweating


pause: the time it takes for a phone to buzz or chime and for you to decide against a reprimand, so as not to get the class off track


silence: the time it takes for you to ask a question, get so much silence that you pinch yourself to see if you are really there and then to wonder if the students saw you pinch yourself


You had a professor who, in front of his lecture hall of at least three hundred, would line up twelve clementines across the table beside the lectern, where books and scholarly ephemera were meant to go. He’d lecture without slides, and as he spoke, he’d [beat] but you are not that man and maybe what makes all the difference is here in this small room you can see their eyes and every crease and frown and [beat] the chalk breaks in half; you pick up the smaller half and [pause] you always give the benefit of the doubt like maybe [beat] the chalk crunches beneath your flats, the small piece you left lying there, and [pause] you always think maybe that one’s an emergency maybe [beat] a wife in labor maybe [pause] a loved one’s car crash maybe [beat] stop writing, don’t erase because your butt will jiggle and these pants are super old and too-tight so [pause] ask a question [silence] make it yes-or-no [silence] say shake your heads or nod, that’s fine [beat] even though you’re not writing you’re still holding chalk so you can fidget and [silence] here’s an answer – that man would peel his clementines one by one by one, segment them piece by piece and eat them slowly, as if in private, before his audience of hundreds, pile the peels up neatly on his table, where books and scholarly ephemera were meant to go.

Kate Finegan is editor-in-chief of Longleaf Review and novel/novella editor for Split/Lip Press. She is the author of the chapbooks The Size of Texas (2018) and Ablaze (forthcoming). She teaches at the University of Toronto. Find her online at or on Twitter at @kehfinegan.

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