#311: Warning

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Do not fold, spindle, or mutilate
anything in this room.
This bag is not a toy.
This thing right here: do not eat.
Watch your step.
If symptoms persist,
consult your physician.
I am out of band-aids.
Men below, please don’t throw.
Slow children.
This hand sanitizer is
flammable. Think about
that for a minute.
Do not flush.
Pull only in an emergency.
Do not spray your perfume
in a crowded classroom, you idget.
Listening only occurs when
your mouth is closed.
Reading only happens when
your eyes are on the page,
and even then, sometimes not.
Sometimes Y.
Failure to listen and read
may result in abject stupidity.
Don’t tell me it wasn’t you, or
that you weren’t doing anything.
The first part is undeniably false,
the second may be true, but
that’s the whole problem.
Duck and cover.
Don’t look for hidden meaning.
There is no hidden meaning,
only meaning that you can’t see,
which is an altogether different thing.

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#310: An Elegy for the Essay in English

I read his essay out loud
the way it appeared on the page.
In about five hundred words
the student used two paragraphs,
and, beyond a single period at the end
of the first paragraph, used no
commas, no semi-colons or colons,
no dashes, no quotation marks, and
no more periods, not even at the end
of the second and last paragraph.
Leaving the placeholder from the template
where it was (in place), he titled his essay,
“The Title of Your Essay” and proceeded
to write in response to a prompt in
which he was asked to discuss
three different perspectives on
bilingualism represented by the
three different writers studied
in our unit, a unit about, you guessed it,
bilingualism. I read his paper out loud
and I did it in all seriousness,
deliberately inhibiting any impulse
to laugh out loud, because I really
did want to see if I could somehow
understand what he was trying
to say, whether or not, despite breaking
or ignoring almost every convention,
he might still have known what he
was talking about. I concluded that
he did not, and in the process of
attempting to prove otherwise,
he had killed the essay in English,
killed it in a bad way, killed it in a way
that would question the wisdom
of ever assigning another one again.
Mostly because I began to despair of
ever being able to teach a certain
number of students anything ever
about writing well. They’re too far
behind, and the interventions needed
too radical and beyond anything
we could ever offer them in the way
of meaningful help. And yet. . .

And yet my teacher heart decided
that the boy had written 500 words,
more words than he had ever
written for me before, and there was,
at least, something to celebrate in that.

 

Here’s the reading of the work the student submitted.
 

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#309: My Morrissey is Getting Better

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All day I had Morrissey’s voice in my head
after 5 albums worth of The Queen is Dead,
the original album and eight sides of bonus
and the lyrics to the song “I Know It’s
Over” percolating and reverberating everywhere
and again; it was almost too much to bear.
I walked up and down hallways today, alone
in my classroom doing my best imitative moan:

I know it’s over but still I cling
I don’t know where else I can go–over, over.

and

It’s so easy to laugh, it’s so easy to hate;
It takes guts to be gentle and kind–over over.

and

Love is natural and real
but not for you my love,
Not tonight, my love

It was a fun song to sing in a room, empty
and resonant and I knew my Morrissey
was getting better and better far and away
and that’s the most productive thing I did today.

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#308: An Attempted Explanation

As soon as I decided not to go shopping for music
the second day in a row, my car horn alarm went
off and I couldn’t get it to stop. I sat there in the car,
parked, engine running, horn blasting, poking and
pushing every conceivable control surface, even
the ones I knew wouldn’t work, wipers, headlights,
stereo volume. My fob battery is dead. It was no use.
Suddenly the horn stopped its hellacious honk and
I don’t know why, have no idea what I did or said.
On the way home I was stuck waiting for
a train. Upon arrival, finally, the horn started
blasting again. I should have bought that record,
the one I wanted yesterday but decided on some
other thing instead, not feeling flush enough for both.
Yeah, I know these things are unrelated, and so its
likely the horn would have begun blasting in the
record store parking lot. But I was thinking about
causes and effects, coming home from group
meditation practice, where I tried unsuccessfully
to telepathically send and receive messages
with a partner, distrusting the process, wondering
about whether I was the only one in the room
who felt incompetent at telepathy. It’s just not
my expertise. I’ve got too many faith blockers.
Don’t ask me to read someone’s mind unless
I can look at their face and listen to them talk,
or let’s just be together in silence. You can
read me a poem. Maybe afterwards, someone
speaks, but maybe not, and that will be fine.

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#306: Letters to His Sister (Point of View Cluster in Frankenstein)

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Q: Hey kids, what’s the point of view in this here novel? You know, who speaks and to whom are they speaking?

A: Well, Walton, he’s the speaker, and he’s writing letters to his sister. But at some point, Victor is speaking to Walton who is writing letters to his sister, but then, Elizabeth is speaking through a letter to Victor who is speaking to Walton who is writing letters to his sister, and then, at another point, Victor’s father Alphonse is speaking through a letter to Victor who is speaking to Walton who is writing letters to his sister, and then, still later, the monster is speaking to Victor who is relaying all of this to Walton who is writing letters to his sister. And Victor, of course, has a photographic memory, not a detail is omitted; and Walton, obviously, has serious-mad dictation skills, doesn’t miss a single beat in those letters to his sister.

 

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#305: The Offending Journal

the offending journal redacted

I’ve seen students copy all kinds
of stuff from one another,
sometimes going as far as
copying down word for word
pages upon pages of a buddy’s
journal responses, the act of
copying all that text more work
than actually doing the work,
only with the added “benefit”
of not learning anything.

But I’ve never seen anything quite like this.

A student is transferring to another school,
would like to improve his grade before the transfer
so he has a better shot at passing the semester.
He turns in his past-due response journal.
For some reason the top of the cover
has been cut off but he has written me a note
of explanation: “my notebook was ripping
from top so I cut it off.” Okay, fair enough.
I start reading his journal and even though
much of it seems familiar to me, I am
exceedingly pleased in the moment.
It’s the best work the kid has done to date.
But then I get to his last entry and I see
my own writing there, my comments.
I’ve read his journal before. Then I realize:
the last time I read it, it belonged to a different kid.

So this guy, trying to put his best foot
forward at the new school, but not really
willing to break a sweat in the process,
doesn’t copy, he just steals, literally steals
another student’s journal. Cuts off the cover
with the student’s name on it, writes his
name on the page underneath. Doesn’t
notice before he consummates the crime
that my comments are there, that in them,
I address the other student by name.
Brazen? Brave? Bold? Or just stupid?
All of the above.
This is my final impression of a kid
that I will likely never see again.
I liked him. The last time I saw him,
right after he had given me the journal
but before I had a chance to look at it,
I wished him well and said goodbye.
My good wishes and an F follow him away.

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