Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Creepy Beautiful

This must be what Genesis means by "creeping things."

Man, but he do creep good.

Saturday, December 5, 2009


Being a teacher is a constant reminder of what we must look like to God. I am always thinking about:
  • How often, and with what enthusiasm, they shoot themselves in the foot;
  • How they would be so much better off if they would just trust that all the pain is actually for their benefit;
  • How I actually do have their best interests in mind, even when I require them to do unpleasant things;
  • How putting off their work today will only double it tomorrow;
  • How the end result is actually much, much better than they could ever imagine, because their brains aren't big enough to understand how great is the thing that they are working for;
and, especially,
  • How much I love them even (or especially) when they spit in my face, purposely sabotage themselves, and just generally act like a bunch of little miscreants.
Actually, the comparison breaks down just a little bit on that last item. Or, really, on all of them. But you see what I mean.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Big and Little

Mr. P., you make us feel big and little at the same time.
That's what one of my students said after I, laying on the sarcasm a little heavily, expressed surprise that the class still didn't know that heaving a book across the room wasn't standard classroom procedure.

Sam is a sixth-grade poet and doesn't know it—or anyway, won't admit it; he claims to dislike reading and writing, but accidentally gives the lie to this claim in every single English class.

I'm such a cynic that, every time he startles me with some clear-eyed and profound statement, I wonder for a second if I'm being played, whether he is using adopting the naivete as a pose, and will snicker the moment I give him a surprised, appreciative smile.

Nope, that's not Sam. That's more Kaelijn's style—she's the one who accuses Lewis Carroll's Alice of being a whiny pushover, criticizes my fashion sense—No, I don't wear skinnies (blech), even on the weekend, and never will, and I can't believe I'm discussing this with you—, and has already learned the deadly habit of flippancy at the age of 11.

Her cynicism isn't real, though. She's eleven; how could it be? It slips the moment she stops watching herself, and I feel a kind of vengeful gratitude every time I see her accidentally take pleasure in one of Carroll's stupid, stupid puns. She learned somewhere that world-weariness is cool, but imbibed the diction of disillusion without, bless her, any of the content.

When I was eight, an old lady stopped me outside of church to tell me: "My goodness, you have beautiful eyes. Do you know what beautiful eyes you have?" I have no idea what I responded, but I'm sure it was inaudible, since I was wishing I was underground or dead or both at the time. If I had thought of it, I would have said, "No, but do you know what horrifying breath you have?"

Just as well I didn't. I don't hold it against her, and I'm not claiming that the experience traumatized me. But I do remember vowing 5 minutes later that when I was old I would never, ever, ever talk to a kid my age in a way that would make them feel that mortifyingly small, would never become one of those people who, in Leif Enger's words, "believes that all kids have blunted senses."

I've done other things, certainly. I've yelled at my students, ignored them, shamed them for minor infractions, made unreasonable requests of them while refusing them their reasonable ones.

But, so far as I can tell, I don't treat them like children; if you see what I mean. Talking to a child as if he were a child is just as boneheaded as telling a girl that she throws like a girl. So I try to remember, even when I am yelling at them for not doing something that I never told them to do in the first place, that they are big and little at the same time.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


I don't mean to make this a blog where I continually make fun of my students. But then, I don't think of it as "making fun"—just a kind of fond laughing at their foibles. Parents can laugh at their kids, right? So, so can teachers, right? It's not like I play "warp the kid" like a certain godfather of mine used to do.

And when someone fills out a vocabulary card like this...well, it probably means I didn't explain what I wanted very clearly. Excerpt:
Word: Treacle.
What I think it means: kind.
Sentence where I found it: They lived on treacle.
What it actually means: A kind of molasses.
A new sentence using this word: I am a kind molasses.
Coincidentally, "a kind molasses" is exactly how I would describe this girl, based on her classroom demeanor. Except when she's a mean molasses.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Slar Wowne

On a Latin test I recently graded, one of the sentences to be translated was:

Cornelia ancillam, nomine Syram, observat.

The correct translation would be "Cornelia watches a slave woman, named Syra." It's a pretty cool sentence—since Latin is highly inflected, we know what the direct object is way before we know what the verb is. Neat.

Some of them thought it was neat, too, or anyway were suitably baffled ("Did they just wait around for the verb, or what?"). One of them, though, translated the sentence as follows:

Cornia waches the slar wowne.

I loved this. Why did I love it? Of all the possible reasons she wrote it, none are good:

(1) She thought she was writing "slave woman."
(2) She had no idea what she was writing.
(3) She's not aware that writing is meant to convey ideas, but knows that I am going to pester her until she makes some marks.

I don't know what the world looks like to someone who can't read. I can't remember when words weren't one of the most important parts of me. I know there are a lot of functional illiterates in the world. I also know that it's not unusual for someone to get to sixth grade with their mind being a pile of mush. But I can't imagine it, because I am luckier than they are.

I asked the my 6th grade literature class recently to name their favorite story—something that wasn't just exciting, but was magical, mysterious, something that they believed might stay with them their entire lives.

Most of them named Zombieland.

Well, I'm a dope. It's the typical grownup mistake (I'm a grownup, kind of): take the thoughts that you formulated about your childhood fifteen years later, and assume that eleven-year-olds are thinking them right now.

But, really?? They can't mean Zombieland occupies the same space in their heads as The Phantom Tollboth and Matilda and Harold and the Purple Crayon did, and do, in mine. Can they? Do they have anything to fill that space? I'm not saying I never watched or read crap, but I watched and read stuff besides crap, too. I'm pretty sure their heads are filled mostly with crap.

And how am I going to convince them that they'll be so much richer—you know, like me—if they fill that space with the stuff I am always going on about? How do I get them to stop calling Lewis Carroll's Alice a whiny weirdo who talks to herself and cries too much? (Well, they're kind of right.)

I'm not really sure. But part of what made me love the slar wowne was the unintentional irony, coming as it did from the pencil of an Alice-mocker: to my ears, the phrase doesn't sound like sub-English but like middle-English; or even better, it's something Lewis Carroll could have thought of, like a mome rath.

So, anyway, I thought it would make a good name for a blog.