Out Of The Woods
By Laila Amado
There is a bear in my classroom. It sits in the back row. Thick brown fur, leathery nose—I’d recognize a bear anywhere. A pair of beady eyes follows me from the table to the blackboard.
Does the administration know about this? Did they orchestrate it? Does the bear play a balalaika?
The light from the windows falls in a checkmate pattern across the floor and my voice rises, rises higher, lifts away from me, becomes a balloon floating beneath the ceiling. I drag it back, stuff it in my chest, adjust my pinched vocal cords to the cadence of the language I’m required to speak in this room.
Students must learn teamwork. It prepares them for the job market. It is a measurable objective, according to the dean, the registrar, and the office of the provost. The bear gravitates from one knot of students to the other. Settles heavily on the outer rim of one of the constellations. I can hear it breathe.
We strive to develop reflection in our students, hone their ability for compassion, sharpen the critical skills as advertised in the course booklet. Every time I scroll through the news feed, I doubt our ability to do so.
The bear is taking notes. Massive black claws dwarf the ballpoint pen. I dread grading reflection essays – the confused, cryptic scribbles and the torn, mangled paper I’m likely to receive.
The students leave the class, dropping the essays off on my table in a teetering, dog-eared heap. The bear squeezes past. Fur, warm and unexpectedly soft, brushes against my face as it struggles to take up less space, careful not to overturn the table. It places an essay in the pile and shuffles out of the room.
When the last student is out of the door, I dive into the pile of papers and find the bear’s essay. The handwriting is neat. The pages smell of raspberry and moss.
Laila Amado spends her days teaching, writing, never quite catching up on her own research agenda, and trying to get a teenage kid through a global pandemic. In her free time, she can be found staring at the Mediterranean Sea. Occasionally, the sea stares back. She is on Twitter @onbonbon7.