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Story Spotlight

Going for Laughs, Going the Distance

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

To be a teacher is to sometimes find yourself on an emotional roller coaster you can’t quite remember queuing up for. One moment, you’re at the top, heartened by the excitement, the wide views, the suddenly expanded sense of the world. The next, you’re hurtling downward, fending off mutiny for daring to teach the difference between “their/they’re/there” in a college class. (The nerve of me.)

Daniel Williams knows this ride well and captures it in wonderful detail in his hilarious, touching, and totally unique essay, “My Worst Teaching Mistake.”

Using a mix of straightforward narrative, imagined conversations, inner monologues, and illustrations, Williams weaves together a tale of a novel teaching technique gone very wrong, and in so doing, reveals both his humor and himself in the process.

A wall had formed between me and my students, and something needed to break it down. I couldn’t use extra kindness or the class would transform into reptiles and eat me alive; and I couldn’t use sternness, because I cannot be stern. I simply don’t have the control. I go from Mr. Softy to a level-11 lunatic, my voice changing without any transition from gracious to The Exorcist, and then I throw kids out of the classroom like they’re packing peanuts around a nuclear device I’m dying to get my hands on.

Each line of the essay feels like it’s been thoughtfully crafted, but all with the end goal in mind. Which is not to say with the end in mind. But rather with the end goal of going the distance with the story—pacing out the plot points, pausing on a moment, pivoting to an unexpected twist, plunging to go deep. Williams really goes for it, committing to his material and his conversation with the reader.

What I love about this essay, in addition its sheer hilarity and the much needed chuckles it offers, is the way in which Williams takes an event that is noteworthy, though perhaps not exceptional, and elevates it into something much richer by telling the story the way only he could—his voice, his quirks, his mix of form and style, his openness. Good instruction from the teacher.

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