Monday, April 21, 2008

because you can only post about law and batman so many times...

After months of cajoling, I have finally convinced Hawkgirl to contribute a guest post. As a Language Arts teacher at an inner-city middle-school, she has no shortage of outlandish adolescent anecdotes. But unlike me, she doesn't desperately crave the attention of strangers. But when I heard that she was having her students write children's stories... well, that's blogging gold right there. And thus, the first ever 3F/Write-On guest post was born...

"Once upon time there was a lady named Ashley. she got pregnant wit a kid she named it kaeyden. Of course it was a boy."

Thus begins a heart-warming fairytale (aptly titled, "The Pregnant Lady") by one of my sixth graders. It's our end-of-year project, and I’ve gotta tell you that I'm a little bit worried at the end of our first workday.

I'm not sure where I went wrong; it all seemed fairly straightforward to me. Each student is to write a five-page children's story. It must include basic plot elements, dialogue and characterization. Then, during the last week of school, we will be walking to a neighboring elementary school to read to first-graders.

This will be my third year doing this project, and I optimistically believed that I had finally worked out all the kinks. So we painstakingly reviewed the rubric, which details my expectations for their end product. The additional creative limitations are few, and as follows:

a) No cussing. No, not even if you use asterisks for the middle letters. Yes, BS counts as a cussword.

b) No sex, no drugs. OK, seriously? Should I have to clarify this? It's a CHILDREN'S story. Inevitably there is also whispering about the fact that I just said "sex".

c) Do not use the names of your classmates in the story. Especially if you hate them, especially if that character dies at the end. Which brings me to my final rule;

d) No violence. At which point lots of hands always go up. "Does gang violence count?" "What about horror stories?" and "Can my story be about the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, if I leave out the bad parts?"

And so on, and so forth. Finally I remind them that there will BE no field trip if they do not get their books done. I try not to let on that this prospect cheers me. So let the writing begin. Laptops are distributed with no major fiascos. About fifteen minutes later I approach Kevin (not his real name—see rule c). Kevin jumps as I lean in and speak:

"I'm pulling for the Spurs." I point to his ESPN brackets. Then I give him my most ferocious teacher look. "I couldn't find Microsoft Word," he says. He seems to think this is a viable excuse for being on the internet, but I disagree.

"I have writer's block?" He tries again, hopefully. I suggest that he get to work, lest I show him writer's block. He takes this as a threat, and asks if I will put him in touch with Hoov, Esq. so that they can sue me.

"Hey, there you go—a story plot." And on I go, to encourage and inspire the next young author.

Many kids just need help with spelling. Because sometimes spell-check just doesn't cut it, like when you spell "turtle" t-i-r-t-l-e. As in, "Mr. Atum the Tirtle."

"How do you spell 'samurai'?" one girl asks.

"How do you spell onomatopoeia Mesopotamia?" another counters. And a game begins in my Honors class. A game called Who Can Think of The Biggest Word that I Would Never Use in My Story?

"How do you spell," (pause... wait for it...) "antidisestablishmentarianism?"

"Isn't your story about leprechauns?" I ask.

"No. Now it's about these rappers who have a dance-off." I peer over his shoulder and glimpse the title. Soulja Boy v. The Get Krunk Sisters.

So, that was the first day. There were also lots of really great work samples and evidence of student growth, but that's way less entertaining. Surely, SURELY, they are learning SOMETHING from this.

And that's what gets me up in the morning, really. Knowing that I'm making a difference in the lives of children, and that if I don't show up the world may never find out what happened to the Pregnant Lady and her boy named kaeyden.