NaNoWriMo 11/04/2007 - English Teachers

Pity high-school english teachers, week after week slogging through stacks of poorly-written papers. Poor grammar, poor spelling, poor everything. Unispired, unenthused, uninterested. What high school kid enjoys writing English papers, let alone admitting such a pathetic thing to his peers?

The kids think they have it bad, 20 page papers about a book that they couldn’t care for if they tried, hastily written in the gaps between more important things in life - friends, the opposite sex, fashion, trends, games, and themselves.

Just think about the person that they hand these malformed treatises to…the teacher, who now has a stack of papers to read in the gaps between more important things in life - friends, the opposite sex, hobbies, games, families, and themselves.

It’s all a charade of education because if you don’t care you don’t learn. Those kids in the back of the class who finished the paper last night don’t care about the words they committed to inkjet. They’ll care a little bit if they fail, but there’s no sincere effort to improve, and they’ll probably go off to college in a couple of years and struggle through and then enter the professional world and write such poorly-written emails that do more to miscommunicate than they do to communicate. And thus continues the cycle of overwhelmingly average mediocrity.

If she’s lucky, an English teacher will have one - just one - good writer in 5 years. Others will be technically proficient to some degree or another - their tenses all face in the same direction and their commas are in the right place. And they’ve learned not to start sentences with the word ‘and’. But their work will be lifeless. They’ll probably end up as technical writers or become really good business writers.

Good business writers - now there’s faint praise. What does it mean to be a good business writer? You’re good enough to commit your words to company letterhead because you’ve managed to excise any shred of personality from your prose. You’re the ultimate plug and play writer, able to be one of 5 people contributing to a one-hundred word document, and produce a result so devastatingly same that a reader can’t distinguish where one writer ended and the other started. That’s not to say that you aren’t skilled, because you are, and your ability to put together a cohesive paragraph puts you in the top one percent of people who know how to write.

But the 1 in 5 student is another thing altogether. They may or may not have the mechanics down yet, but damn can they get the words to dance and sing when they have found a groove. The process is slow and with many inexorable. First, they accidentally string together a clever handful of words that float above the page. They are surprised and delighted as they read it over. The rest of the words cling resolutely to the screen and the paper when printed. They are little more than black pixels arranged in a codified pattern. But that handful of words float above the page, and when spoken they leave a taste in the mouth, like a good juicebox.

And so it grows in fit and starts. A handful of words here, a jumble there, with no apparent rhyme or reason when they appear. They can’t be conjured for while they have talent, they don’t have control. Which is ashamed, because most of the time their professions of love are as lame as the next guy’s, and at the end of the week they don’t get the girl which makes them question their gift, but also - critically - gives them more raw material to work with, and keeps them hungering for and falling deeper into this fascination with making words dance. And not having a girlfriend gives them more time alone in their room to conjure.

And so this skinny, otherwise unremarkable 1 in 5 walks for the first time into this English teacher’s class. And with the first paper, without really trying - remember, a fascination with writing doesn’t gain one friends or get one laid unless you can release them in a furious cascade of rhyme accompanied by a heavy bassline - makes a couple of words dance. The English teacher, tired from another week of school, and bored to beers (or maybe wine) by all the awful papers on “Lord of the Flies” that she has to grade nearly passes them by. She rubs her eyes in fatigue and reads the sentence again. And once again they dance. She mouths them and they leave a taste in her mouth. After hundreds of pages of mashed potatoes, she’s stumbled upon a hidden kernel of sweat buttered corn.

At this point in the story you may employ your favorite hackneyed metaphor - a young Luke Skywalker being discovered by Obi Wan Kenobe, a young Harry Potter showing early flashes of brilliance, or that movie with Sean Connery as the English teacher in an urban school. Think what you like, but this is not your story. It’s not even mine.

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