I know this is my poetry museum site, but I really do write prose that is poetic . . . at least much of the time. Ms Holmes Pretends is a novel I have been writing . . . probably all of my adult life–at least in my head. It’s about a career teacher in a public school facing the crisis of her life. In it, I’ve included the “wisdom” of my experience of over 20 years of public school teaching.
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The book also includes the comedy in all of those years too, the chaos, the creativity, the injured and disturbed minds, the uniquely trying and wonderful qualities of the modern teenager. I’m sure some of my former students will find themselves somewhere in this book . . . names all changed to protect the innocent, of course. All fiction, of course.
Here’s an excerpt:
“What are some time signal transitions someone might use in a narrative paper?” she asked after they read a sample paragraph together. When no one answered, she asked, “What are some transitions in this paragraph?”
“Like!” Jordan, the simple child on the front row remarked, always ready with the first wrong answer.
“The train rolled to a stop,” said Dennis, and when Ms Holmes didn’t immediately respond, he added, ‘You hate me, don’t you?”
“What was the question?” another student asked.
Brett raised his hand, “When, after a while, and soon.”
“Thank you, Brett.”
“Where are we ever gonna use this stuff?”
The ubiquitous student line that came up a few times each semester was one Ms Holmes barely noticed anymore. When she was young, she had stopped to explain the ramifications of not knowing the skill she was attempting to teach. But when she continued to hear it, she added it to her list of requests that did not need to be addressed. It was the equivalent of the two-year old “Why?” Any answer would suffice because the point was not the question. The point was interaction.
“Right now,” Ms Holmes said. “Get out a piece of paper.”
The usual jockeying for leverage to get paper from Wendy Talbot, the perennial paper passer-outer, began. Sometimes Ms Holmes wondered what her parents thought she was doing with all that loose-leaf paper they kept purchasing for her. Wendy opened her binder, an item practically no student owned anymore, and began passing out pieces of paper to the many palms pointed her way. Next, came the search for pencil or pen. Two students broke their pencils in half in order to share them. One boy gave out a triumphant cry when he found a pencil stub that was still usable by the trash can. Another boy pulled a marker from the box near Ms Holmes’s desk. He would get no credit for anything written with said marker which he knew because Ms Holmes had said it often enough.
With Brett as her focal point of attention, though she disguised her gaze so no one would know, she proceeded with explaining how transitions add coherence to a paragraph. She did this by showing a brief comedy skit she had downloaded from the Comedy Central website when she was at home because the site was blocked at school. After the laughter subsided, she then gave them a topic and the instructions to use transitions throughout the paragraph about it.
“When is this due?”
Another of the two-year-old questions. Ms Holmes ignored it. She had already said they were writing the paragraph and handing it in today.
“How many points is this worth?”
She walked around the classroom as heads bent over papers and the scrawling began. Jordan “finished” his paper in two minutes and shot it up in the air.
Ms Holmes walked to his desk and took the paper.
“My idea car is a classic mustang cobra it is red with white strips it has a engine like never maid in a car cuz its rockin”
Ms Holmes read the “paragraph” and handed it back. “There are no transitions in this paragraph. Plus, it is a run-on sentence.”
“What’s wrong with run-on sentences? You understood it, didn’t you?”
Ms Holmes, unfortunately, had understood the “paragraph.”
“Who makes Lamborghinis?” one boy asked. Ms Holmes shivered to think how he might be spelling that one.
“Does anybody have any lead?”
“In your head!”
“That’s what she said.”
“You shut up.”
“You’re a towel.”
Ms Holmes cleared her throat. Heads bent over papers again in silence.
“Why is English class called English when we already know how to speak English?” asked Jordan, who was once again “finished” with his paragraph.
Where. When. How. What. Who. Why.
They had touched all bases. Ms Holmes decided she should be proud they had achieved a new level of investigative inquiry.
She then abandoned the lesson and wrote the five W’s and H on the board and began a different one.