When teacher-persons are observed, the supervisor’s report always includes details of the teacher’s demeanor and activities before and after class. Like many of my fellow temporary instructors, my classes are stacked back-to-back. I’ll teach four classes in a row, or I’ll teach five in a row, with only a ten or fifteen minute passing period, often with longer classes later in the day, so there’s reverse momentum as I become more harried. In the time between classes, I need to walk from one building to another. I need to use the restroom and stand in line to drink from a water fountain as the student-person in front of me slowly fills a quart-sized container. There’s a computer at the front of the class, which I need to boot up. Students filter in, some want to talk to me, and after the class is over, some linger to talk again. I get no downtime and am supposed to always be “on.” I need to act interested in whatever the student-person is saying. I have to nod my head and make utterances of agreement. Often the student will expect me to provide something more complicated than our brief exchange will allow, and I’ll tell them to email me for an appointment to meet in my office. They want to know about grades, they want me to feed them a nutshell version of a class they missed or an upcoming assignment, and they want me to tell them it’s okay to miss a class.

I have no problem with any of that, though today I’m unable to conceal my impatience as a dialogue with a student becomes a monologue and the student tells me much too much about an upcoming extra-curricular event, to take place in another state. He presents me with an official-looking letter from the extra-curricular club’s president to back up his claim. I know how to be polite as my opportunity to go to the bathroom slips away. And I can smile and nod as I’m told about something I can hardly muster a whit of interest in. It’s nothing personal. I like the student. I’m glad for the student. But class will go on without him, he won’t be missed, and though some teacher-persons do concern themselves with formal letters and they parse out excused from unexcused absences, I don’t need to see his letter.

At the end of this particular class, the student is both excited and anxious. I think he’s afraid I’ll tell him he won’t be excused, because the letter describes an event that isn’t university-sponsored, and we both know it.

I pause and look up at him after scanning the letter. “You play quidditch?”

“Our team is really good,” he says. “We have a shot at nationals.”

“You run around on brooms?”

“None of us can fly,” he says. “So we run with brooms.”

“Like hobby-horses?”

“It’s a team-sport. It’s intense.”


“There are balls. There are rules.”

And now, despite myself, I’m drawn in. I don’t care that young people play a sport derived from a children’s book, but my natural curiosity leads me to questions, and the student-person is nonplussed, not at all embarrassed. I think he thinks that because I’m an English teacher I’m supposed to be a fan of anything book-related. I don’t tell him this, because it wouldn’t be appropriate, but I smack-talk Harry Potter in writing workshops. Inevitably, young people will want to talk about these books, which they grew up on and I haven’t read, and which I will not read, and which I shouldn’t be made to feel like I need to read. English professors read heaps of books, including books they didn’t want to read but felt they had to, though Harry Potter doesn’t fulfill that criteria for me. And when I tell creative writing workshops this, I tell it to illustrate the pitfalls of genre writing. Go ahead and write about witchy children at boarding school if you want, as long as you understand that there will always be more readers not interested in what you are doing than inclined to want to play along. This is true of any genre, including, and maybe even especially, literary realism. When I say, “I would never willingly read this book because the premise is easy, and frankly, dumb,” mine is a perfectly legitimate critique of a story, and no one should enter into genre writing without understanding that many readers won’t respond well to work they find the underlying broad strokes of — say, a boarding school for witchy children — to be stupid.

And so, because I’ve got a human being in front of me who I want to understand and whose choices I would like to respect, I won’t stand in line at a drinking fountain before my next class, and I may even be late, because I need a glimpse of what makes running around on brooms fun instead of stupid, or if stupid, stupid but worthwhile, or stupid but exciting, or stupid, but way better than attending my class.

“I feel like I’ve seen pictures,” I say. “Are there hula hoops?”

“Yes! There are three hoops on each side of the field that you throw the quaffle through. You put the quaffle through the hoop to score.”

“A quaffle is a ball?”

“It’s a volleyball. But no one calls it that.”

“And throwing the quaffle through the hoop?… I have a feeling this isn’t just one point.”

“It’s ten!”

“Well that’s better than one, isn’t it?”

“And there are more balls. Dodgeballs are bludgers. They’re used for defense. If you hit someone with a bludger they get knocked off their broom and have to touch a hoop before they can return to play.”

“If this game were real,” I say, “someone might fall to his death.”

“Or hers.”

“It’s coed?”

We aren’t Muggles. No offense. We don’t recognize gender binaries.”

“It’s a non-contact sport?”

“There’s contact. But not like rugby.”

“You mean football?”

“‘Football’ could mean ‘soccer’.”

“Only to an anglophile.”

“I know that word,” he says, “but I’m not remembering it.”

“Someone who loves England and all things English.”

Harry Potter isn’t just English.”

“It’s very English.”

“There are quidditch tournaments all over the world,” he says.

“There are anglophiles all over the world as well,” I say, “as a side effect of empire. I’m afraid I still don’t understand your game. How do you win?”

“This is the exciting part. There’s a snitch-runner who has a tennis ball in a sock, the ‘snitch,’ that hangs from the back of his shorts like a tail. The seekers chase after him and try to grab the snitch from his shorts.”

“Or her shorts?”

“Yes, well, the snitch-runner is usually a guy.”

“Because you wouldn’t want seekers grabbing at a lady’s shorts.”

“Basically, the snitch-runner needs to run really fast.”

“And when someone grabs the snitch?”

“The game is over and the team who snatched the snitch gets thirty points.”

“That might not take long.”

“Oh, but it does,” he says. “The snitch-runners are really good.”

“Are you a snitch-runner?”

“I’m a beater.”

“I don’t believe we covered that.”

“Beaters throw bludgers at chasers to knock them off their brooms, especially if they have the quaffle.”

“Okay,” I say, “let me see if I’ve got this straight: half the team is playing dodgeball, while another half plays pretend-polo. Meanwhile there are folks running around trying to catch a tail. Is that it?”

“Kind of. There are also goalies.”

“But they’re not called goalies?”

“They’re ‘keepers’.”

“Because calling them ‘goalies’ would be too Muggle?”

“Everything contributes to the illusion that we’re a magical team of flying quidditchers,” he says. “And that’s the best part.”

“Better than winning?”

“Winning is nice. Will I be excused from class Friday or not?”

“The attendance policy is on the syllabus.”

“Which is…?”

“You can miss five classes. I don’t care for what. Nationals. World Cup. Sleeping in. Whatever.”

“Great,” he says. “I’ve only missed, like, one.”

“Some things are more important than school,” I say, “and I don’t really need to know your business.”

“I wanted you to know.”

“May you bludgeon many beaters and snitch many tails.”

I’m the beater. I bludgeon chasers. And I don’t play for the snitch. I’m not a seeker.”

“Oh, but you are.”