Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A 791-Word Escape to the Outdoors

I can remember watching the frustration back in the days when we used to assign the "300-word" theme.  

"Okay, class, we're going to write a theme today," I would make that pronouncement much in the same manner as  I'd heard from English teachers before me.  

"You can write on the subject of your choice.  Write on one side of the paper.  Use blue or black ink. If you make a mistake, cross it out with one neat line.  Due at the end of the hour."  

That usually took care of the next 54 minutes for me.  At least I could sit there and average grades or work on lesson plans for a change rather than doing all the talking.

At that moment, I wasn't actually thinking about the ten-twelve hours of work I'd assigned myself for the weekend while grading all those "themes," as we called them back then.

Often, even the classroom scenario did not turn out to be as relaxing as I had anticipated.  For most kids in my class, I might as well have sentenced them to the hangman's noose.  In their minds, they heard, "If you're not done at the end of the hour, you're gonna die by the rope."

While a few self-motivated souls went straight to work, not taking time to breathe because their brains were on fire, others would just sit there staring into space.

Others would write two or three words furiously and then emphatically pick up that piece of notebook paper, emphatically wad it up and emphatically throw it on the floor near their desk.  

Others would look up briefly to see the what prompted the commotion.  These scenes repeated themselves several times throughout the hour, often at the same student desk.

By the end of the class period, some kids spent more time picking up their fruitless efforts from the floor than they spent looking over the finished assignment one last time before turning it in. 

When I faced my computer screen this morning, I could not help but think of those days when kids were working at a distinct disadvantage to what we know these days.

Take that a step further and imagine Mark Twain or Thomas Jefferson when they embarked on a writing assignment.  What could these men have accomplished with a computer as opposed to a turkey feather and a bottle of ink!

I don't know how many papers got thrown on the floor by these great men of letters, but I can only imagine the frustration they felt when pressed to come up with the right words.  And, if they came up with the wrong words halfway through the assignment, how maddening must that have been!

I faced my computer screen this morning with an empty mind.  Well, it had a few items swirling around inside.  First and foremost was "What am I gonna write so I can get outside on this beautiful September morn?"

Isn't that the name of one of Neil Diamond's songs?

Well, whether Neil (who happens to be one of my most favorite performers) penned "September morn" or not and wadded up several pieces of notebook paper before coming up with that astute lyric phrase, I still had little activity in my mind.  

Fortunate for me I can't wad up my computer screen and throw it on the floor for all to hear in this household.  Well, so what if nobody's here to hear!  Why would I wad it up anyway?  I have not strung enough words together to make a mistake, get mad and throw it on the floor.

Well, maybe I have, and maybe once more these thoughts about how hard it is sometimes to come up with a writing idea and put it into full motion have humbled me into actually feeling sorry for those kids from long ago with their notebook paper and the 10 words followed by a spelling error, followed by a wadded up ball on the floor. 

Why did we do that to our students?  Amazing they still speak to us. 

My son came to get the dogs the other night and said he had to get home cuz he had papers to grade.  I wondered what he had assigned them,  and I wondered if he had seen any wads of paper on the floor.

The beat goes on for another generation, but I'm betting that he hardly introduced the assignment with a gleeful look and the pronouncement that "We're going to write a 300-theme today."  

Fortunately, times and technology has changed, and maybe the students aren't suffering so much in the process. 

Well, now I've written about 791 words, and I can go outside.  And, my computer screen has remained intact.  

Have a nice day. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yeah, all those stuffs are common during school. If you need a better assignment