The Satisfaction of a Job Well Done

Jobs. Some jobs are amazing, some are tedious. Some are amazingly tedious. Jobs are something we have all of our lives, from the task of clearing our own place from the table through the career or careers we use to fill our time as adults.We can always hope that the job we have is one we enjoy, one we aspired to, one that is fulfilling. In order to achieve that goal, there is the need to do well in school so that there are options for success. A time spent exploring interests might be a good idea as well, but not everyone has that luxury. I did get that chance–I lived in a few different parts of the country, I explored different colleges, universities, and majors, and had a chance to work in a variety of fields while I gained my more traditional education. I can now claim experience in baking, running restaurants and resorts, administrative assistantship, selling golf putters over the phone, background checks, tutoring, substitute teaching, conducting student orchestras, and (of course) teaching. There are aspects of each of these jobs that I found fulfilling and aspects that were less enjoyable. Some I have dreams of revisiting one day. We’ll see what happens.

A smattering of jobs, I suppose. Now everybody sing…

In any case, waxing eloquent about jobs is prompted by an inadvertently profound studentism: “Thousands of people get jobs they hate and end up quieting.” This student claims that people, rather than quitting hated jobs, merely become quiet. I find this observation to be all too true. Think about it. I don’t know very many people who will voluntarily give up a job and a steady paycheck if they have one. Even if they are miserable, they stay quietly where they are, in order to support their lives and families. What a miserable concept.

On a related note, and one which often causes teachers to quiet, another student once wrote, “Almost half the students don’t do anything from the hours 8 AM to 3 PM.” Speak of profound observations. It is this problem that perhaps causes unsatisfactory jobs and people quieting later in life. If the students would learn and apply themselves between 8 and 3, maybe we’d all be more successful. Work ethic, anyone? Maybe we should reform everything. Just don’t ask me how; I haven’t figured it out yet.

The Ennui of Endless Amusement

The first time I heard that sixflags was an adventure park I thought that it wasn’t going to be exited.” Well goodness. There are enough things wrong with that sentence I’m not sure where I should start. Capitalization of proper nouns? Content? Spelling? Pronoun-verb agreement? Some of that is boring (though necessary). The rest is what moves it from the realm of badly-written sentence to studentism.

Specifically, I am focusing on “it wasn’t going to be exited.” I know this student meant to write that it wasn’t going to be exciting. Really, now? First off, what high school freshman, writing near the beginning of the school year, is already so bored with life that their end-of-middle-school trip to Six Flags isn’t going to be exciting? What have they done in their life? Seriously? Mayhap this is why I have such trouble keeping their attention in the classroom.

Holy Ennui, Batman! It’s a bored generation!

But the real issue is this: The amusement park “wasn’t […] to be exited.” Holy Shades of Halloween Horror Specials, Batman! The amusement park that you can’t leave. Do they keep packing more and more people through the front gates like commuters onto a Japanese Bullet Train? Sorry. That was probably a misinformed generalisation, but it served its purpose. Or perhaps it is such a labyrinthine mess that once you’re in, you’ll never find your way out, despite pebbles, breadcrumbs, or golden threads. You’ll just be there, forever, until your teeth rot from amusement park food–or conversely, you starve to death because you can’t afford the outrageously expensive food any longer and there’s no way to make more money where you are.

Goodness. The scenario is getting worse by the moment. Do students know what they do to their poor teachers? All of these thoughts from an error-ridden sentence. Had I known even one teacher went places like this in their head from student writing, I would have ensured they had more to play with. Maybe that’s just me. Anyone else?

Those nice young men…

A Most Persuasive Argument

The persuasive essay is an interesting conundrum. I appreciate the idea that we ought to teach people methods of persuasion, and that they need to know how to judge an argument’s reliability. I even have simplified methods of helping students distinguish between pathos, ethos, and logos arguments. Then I try to convince them of the efficacy of a good counterargument, and finally they choose their topic to write an essay. Of course an essay! Without them, I wouldn’t have as much great material to write about. However, the essays in English class always seem so contrived. “Choose a controversial topic and write an essay arguing one side. Do not choose [terrible topic a, b, or c].”

But Miss BB, I can write about that! It will be good, I promise.

It never is. All of their arguments are emotional, or so misinformed it makes a teacher want to weep. It’s not my favorite essay to teach, but it does provide some excellent studentisms.

I chose to write about this particular studentism today because it seems timely. There will, I think, always be a number of things that are political hot-button issues; guns will probably remain on that list for some time. I have read quite a few essays touting the need for gun control, and quite a few arguing that guns are good to have around. As with any good persuasive argument, there must be a variety of reasons supporting the thesis. This student supports the argument that guns are good with a particularly convincing argument: “Guns are necessary because they are for self defense against strange people.

Would this classify as strange?

What an interesting concept. We should defend ourselves against strange people. It does beg a question or two. Thousand. I’m not sure any of the questions actually have answers. Indeed, I’m uncertain I should speculate too deeply on that one; I might come to some socially or morally incorrect conclusions.

So what does a teacher do when faced with such a statement? It really depends on her mood. In this case, I laughed and added it to my studentism list. Should I have tried to correct the student? Probably, but there is that irrefutable logic inherent in the statement, and I just couldn’t bring myself to correct it with a straight face. Does that make me one of the strange people against whom we should all be defended?

Oh, My Poor Nerves!

Everyone gets nervous from time to time. Mrs. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice is famous for her nerves, ostensibly brought on by having five daughters to marry off and not enough fortune to make them desirable to prospective husbands. Some have speculated that her nerves came from having a husband who was far her intellectual superior (and her social superior as well) decide she wasn’t much worth his time after all. The poor woman had to do something to get his attention.

Mrs. Bennet from the A&E/BBC 1995 Production looking nervous

In any case, Mrs. Bennet is not the only person to ever have a nervous complaint, and as I said, everyone has had a case of nerves once or twice. I tell my students that I am nervous the first day of school, meeting a whole crop of new people, hoping that I’ve improved my skills enough that I can properly teach them, wondering if this is the class that is going to realise that they outnumber me and I can’t really do anything to stop them if they decide to mutiny. Well…I don’t tell them that last part. I do assure them of my nerves and genuine shyness when I introduce to them their first oral assignment. Of course, when I go all actor-dramatic on them to get their attention during Shakespeare, and play four roles at once, including a weeping, distraught Romeo, some of them accuse me of not being shy at all. I look at them in feigned bewilderment and reply, “That’s not shyness. That’s acting.” Then we continue our discussion of Romeo’s extreme emo-ness. He was probably nervous too.

However, I have never seen or read of anyone so nervous as one of my students apparently was. My students write autobiographically from time to time, and one student confided in an essay, “I was so nervous, it felt like my heart would fall out of my butt.” Now my friends, that is nervous. It’s also a marvelous example of original figurative language gone horribly graphic. At least they didn’t use a cliché. I love when students use their imaginations to come up with something glorious. Though this student may need a little refinement as time goes by, I am thrilled by the potential.


Incredible Feats of Strength

It is amazing what my students can do. Occasionally I wonder why, if they can do all the unbelievable things they write about, they cannot finish their homework. But I digress. Today’s studentism needed the whole family to accomplish, and it really did warm my heart to know they all worked together so well.

In today’s world of families falling apart, ignoring each other in favor of–anything, really, and going their own way as much as possible, I was thrilled that some students have families that work toward a common goal. I do wish more families were like that. I love having a family that, though it has many disparate parts, works together when something needs to happen.

I can only assume that the family of the student who wrote this is the same: when they see something that needs to be done, they all get together and figure out how to make it work. This is obviously a family with goals, dreams, and the wherewithal to make it happen. If you’re not convinced, check out what the student wrote; you’ll become a believer:

My mom, my brothers, my sister and I were getting ready to move Minnesota.

Another Incredible Family

Wow. In an incredible demonstration of family togetherness and problem solving, they were about to move Minnesota. Where they thought Minnesota needed to go, or how they eventually decided they would move it aren’t explained. Perhaps they had begun with the District of Columbia, or had previously worked on moving Rhode Island, and felt that with their prior experience, they could safely move Minnesota.

I suppose in the end they realized the task was too much for them, which is why our maps haven’t been redrawn. However, even the thought of taking on such a daunting task is so beyond my purview that I’m amazed this student could write about such a thing so casually.

At least it wasn’t Texas.

Anne Frank had a Dairy?

I was taught to be observant, and to take note of things of interest. I recall family conversations centering around misplaced modifiers (now that I teach them, I know what they are called)–those intriguing bits of sentences that make you tip your head to one side and look puzzled, if you pay attention. They have always amused me. Now, I wish I could draw the wealth of fun word pictures unknowingly provided me by perfectly serious students.

Julien Dupré “A Milkmaid With Her Cows On A Summer Day”

The first studentism I collected was during my student teaching. I planned and taught a unit, all on my own, to a class of 8th grade honors English students. It taught me many things, not the least of which that Anne Frank, with all due respect, had a dairy. It is a simple typo that I happened to see far too many times as I graded that first set of essays. But the crowning glory was when I learned that “In the dairy of Anne Frank, Anne and her family lived for two years in the attic of her father’s factory, which was behind a bookshelf.” (I’m afraid I can’t cite any of my studentisms; I didn’t keep any attributing information to protect the innocent.) It left me wondering: how big was that infamous bookshelf?

Not Anne Frank’s father’s factory bookshelf–but a very cool bookshelf nonetheless.

That was the first time I realized that a teacher really ought to know how to draw. It also made it difficult to take any of the essays on a very poignant, serious subject seriously at all.

As mentioned previously, I have collected an alarmingly large number of these little gems in the years since. I do hope you enjoy them as I do. They certainly make grading hundreds of essays more palatable.

Introducing Studentisms

Higher Learning?

Learning. It’s something we all do, and I hope I never choose to stop. For teachers, learning is our livelihood, our calling. In one sense, we learn anew each day that we can inspire hope and dreams. In another, we learn continuously how much work there is to be done. Some students arrive in our classrooms woefully unprepared not only for what we are teaching, but for many other aspects of life. Do we teach our subject matter, or responsibility? At the end of the day, which is more important?

Our leaders have realised that the educational system is broken, but their attempts to fix it appear to have gone awry. This often leaves the teachers feeling bitter, overwhelmed, and helpless as they watch students raised to the almighty test try (or not try) year after year to reach “proficiency” and wonder how this will really prepare our kids for life after high school. Life isn’t about multiple choice “bubble tests.” We should certainly aspire for more than mere proficiency! Yet that is the accepted measure of our success as educators.

It means we steal moments of time from the proscribed course of study to teach life, which many of our students have experienced only via a screen. They stare blankly, wishing the “commercial” would end so they can get on with what they’re forced to do. Some are forced to wait for the rest of the students to catch up while others are forced to attend school at all. It’s an interesting mix.

However! This blog is not about that. This blog is about the comic relief frequently found from those same students. I call them studentisms: typos, wrong usage, dangling modifiers, malapropisms, and anything that gives amusement while grading papers. After having collected them for a time, I pulled a phrase from a persuasive essay. I no longer recall what the essay was trying to argue, but the phrase reads, “all of their innocent killings.” The clouds parted; the angels sang. I had a title for my collection! It has morphed into “Our Innocent Killings” because no one is perfect, and we all kill the language at some point. I do hope you enjoy the journey with me.