Room 506, Des Moines, Iowa

I teach composition at a community college in the center of a cornfield in the center of the state known as the heartland. My students come from high schools where they earn Cs. They are also international students, vocational students, and student athletes. Some are middle-aged and apologize for this every chance they get. Others are troubled and demand a lot of bandaging of wounds that are all too visible in essays about failed relationships, juvenile boot camps, immigration officials who show up for sudden roundups, and meth habits that can make trees look like they’re walking down Highway 14. My students stare up at their white-bread teacher in her scarf and clip-on earrings, and though I smile back at them, learn their names quickly, and promise they’ll be stronger writers when they leave my class, most days I cannot tell you what good I’ve done.

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