The Writer’s Lexicon: Went . . . -em- !

First, a charm. Second, a blast. Third, no prob. Forth and fifth too.


But then came sixth period. A monster of a period. What do employees want to do their last hour? The bad ones slack off. The good ones sprint. Either way we expend our pent up oodles of energy, anxiety, and stress. All hallelujah breaks loose. That’s why you hear those ankles thud under the desk. You see those thigh muscles twitch too. And if you can get away with it, you stand up with your fists in the air and scream at full blast.


That’s what happened last class.


Before pencils started flying, I was standing by the door, one foot in one foot out of the classroom.


Hello, hello, hello. Come on in. What is it?


About a basketball game’s worth of students from other periods were crowded around. Can we go in? the loudest were asking me. Can we take a class with you? Please? Please?


But didn’t we have each other last period? Won’t we see each other tomorrow? My face must has been red, my vanity aflame, thinking, Why not let em in?


Please, they chanted. We want to be in class with you.


Well, alright, said the novice. Come on in.


After a bit of prompting, and inviting students to sit in the front row, I literally took a deep breath, as I scanned the room. I won’t say how many, but an inordinate number of students were now quietly and patiently stationed at their desks, hands clasped over their laptops and their wide, electric eyes on their teacher.


And I began putting chalk to the board.


We dove into the lesson, making hangman’s for the vocab words, acrostic poems for the corollary ideas, and a mega mind map for building the lesson’s schema. The class was into it too. Students pointed at each other when one said something good. The children laughed when someone said something silly. I did my part and stepped around to where the most noise came from, rallied with the students, offered suggestions, provided some proximity control. Made my presence felt, my attention known. It was all chugging along fabulously.


But leaving the encounter stage, our clarification stage took a turn for the worse. Essentially, asking the students to learn a new word (“Credibility”) explicitly threw our once uniform mental truck right down into a ditch. Crash. No! someone yelled. Not a new word!


Explaining it wasted minutes on the clock like giving white skin a sun burn. Eliciting examples cost one half of the class so much energy the other half felt more bored than a pack of dogs without a bone to fight for. Classroom management today got more sour than a cup of milk left out at noon. In other words, it was a free for all.


Write “Credibility” on your paper please, I asked the class. (Monitor, monitor, walking around, monitor.) And write for ten minutes about something you are an expert in. A few compile. Others too, but only tardy. One person stands up. Another waves a student walking by. Oh geez. Allowing non-period students had opened the flood gates. The class became a hangout. But a handful wanted to still learn. I could see it in their trembling eyes. Kick em out, mister.






Let’s see. One was leaving. Another too. But other students were walking in. It was like a bad midtown bar in here. So I deputized the most rambunctious student as Bouncer. It is your job to make sure no one else comes in and out like that. Like a cop? he inquires. Like a cop, I respond.


Whenever I cast a glance over my shoulder I noticed the cop had a foot on the door frame and both hands on the handle. Oh lord, I prayed. By the time he was snatching pencils away from his classmates, I had to take his badge and his gun. What are you, a corrupt cop or something? No, mister. What’s my name? Mr Brave! Good. Sit please.


Luckily one student in the back wasn’t lifting his pen from his paper, despite the disruptions. I could see smoke nearly rising from his words as he wrote. Another student fawned, showed me his work, proud of his two sentences. Write some more? I offered. Ok, teacher. Good.


Yet another came up, whispering, I wrote in Spanish. I whispered back, Sin problema. A ver? Nice. ¿Escribí más, dale?


Imagine an army sergeant leading a boot camp of a dozen soldiers: some in excellent condition, others in terrible shape; others who don’t know why they are there; and yet others who don’t want to be. I found myself taking my hands out of my pockets a lot, raising my voice too often, and doing rounds from row to row. An army sergeant might have brought to bear a boat load of discipline, no? What about a middle school teacher? My tools broke. Time dwindled. Stress stalked me like a fury. But I chugged forward. Worked with who paid attention. Took mental notes of the class, of what I would do next time better.


Sigh. At the exact time of departure, to the minute, with the second hand on zero-zero, I let out the class. Get! I ordered. The students smiled, laughed, thanked me. Another asked me to review his paper, a lingering genius, who had written about liking to edit videos.


After suggesting a handful of improvements, I squared my shoulders to the young man, arched my most curious eyebrow, and asked, Para mañana?


Sí, he replied, his grin a quarter moon.

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