Spey Rod, 10/14/2013

Current Occupation: Steelhead and Salmon Angler
Former Occupation: Composition-grading Robot for Large Urban Community Colleges
Contact Information: After 20 years of teaching college-level composition, Spey Rod uses the few brain cells he has left trying to trick big steelhead on Oregon’s Sandy River. You’ll have to find him on the river, but if you ask him if he wrote this poem, he will deny it. Check out Spey’s “Post Tenure Fish in the Machine," "Satori on I-84 ," and "Key" in back issues of WORK.


Tall Stack

Grading college compositions was like eating sawdust
but the salary, tenure, and pension were maple syrup.
Still, what sane person would eat sawdust with maple syrup?

Some of us found refuge in illegal or prescription drugs,
cigarettes, alcohol, far-away trips to foreign lands,
immersion in painting, poetry, or Eastern mystical religions.

Years of pain, and thousands in student loan debt
rewarded us with decorative meals at long tables of
song, celebration, and later vomit from overwork.

Honestly, some students tried very hard
but what could they or we do when English
wasn’t their first language

and survival wasn’t ours?


4 comments on “Spey Rod, 10/14/2013
  1. Jan Priddy says:

    It is not only the teachers who are paying.

    • Spey Rod says:

      Jan Priddy, I enjoyed your blog. I agree with you about the need to help immigrants, and I appreciate the many wonderful writers who began with other languages. My gripe in the above poem is not about dedicated students. Instead, my gripe is with the administrators/systems that have consistently burned out the best and most dedicated teachers I have known in the last 20 years. The “sawdust” in my poem is about workload, not about student papers.
      Maybe life is different for teachers in other parts of the country. Maybe not.
      Spey Rod

      • Jan Priddy says:

        I missed that your poem was about administrators and not student writing.

        As a teacher (college and high school) for many years, I certainly do see frustration and I feel it. My comment above was only meant to remind us all that our students struggle too.

        My community is rural and high poverty. When a student drops out of school after spending most of the previous year sleeping in a shed and trying to keep her addicted mother out of jail—it doesn’t make me feel better about my own situation, but it provides some perspective.

        Thank you for reading my blog. It’s always exciting for me to read something that gets me thinking hard. Your poem did that.

  2. Spey Rod says:

    My poem above should say “Grading too many college compositions was like eating sawdust.” I think it’s fair to say that community college English teachers can expect to grade some compositions as a normal part of the job. However, 70-hour work weeks for about 7 years were ridiculous, and I’m still uneasy about those days. In my poem “Satori on I-84,” also at Work Literary Magazine, I listed colleagues’ illnesses and described them as “horses killed in war.” If interested, just click my name above this post.

    A agree that it is good to remember “that our students struggle too” — especially with the example you gave.

    My community was urban and mixed, with some of my students living in cars while others could afford gardeners. Such was and is California.

    Thanks for the ways you help students, and for your willingness to dialogue on these important issues. There is a new group of teachers entering the systems, and I wish them better days.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


1 × 3 =