Friday, August 26, 2011

Enjoying the Ride


It is possible that I go overboard when I use metaphors in the classroom. Perhaps it is the curse of being an English teacher, perhaps that is just how I see life--through connections and reflectionships between experiences and practices in seemingly unrelated areas of life. Whatever the reason, I clearly have a problem with it. I can only hope that my students make sense of my mixed metaphors as they dominate my explanations of writing form and manner, trying to help them understand what being a writer is really like.

A few years ago while trying to explain the expository essay to a group of seniors I started to explain it in terms of prom: the importance of presentation, the value of the dress as a crucial centerpiece while the accessories--crucial in accent and completion--could not function on their own. We discussed first and last impressions, the disrupted facade when the outfit was ruined with a trip or a spill, and the importance that this impression last beyond the experience, much like good writing should continue to hang in our subconscious beyond mere consumption.

Now that I teach younger teenagers, the prom illustration had to be updated a bit. I have used sandwiches to illustrate the layering of information and analysis, but this time I was looking especially for a means to illustrate the reality of editing--that it isn't a quick process, that your first draft shouldn't be your final, that reading your personal narrative once over doesn't constitute a finished draft. So this time we spoke about cleaning. We discussed the basic vacuum and windex once-over you could give your house, the second layer cleaning in dusting the tops of bookshelves and picture frames, the deep cleaning you might do in wiping baseboards and wiping down walls and corners. Based on the looks on their faces it was pretty obvious who had taken part in such cleaning expeditions at home and who had absolutely no idea what I was talking about. Cleaning the walls? Who does that?

Despite the breakdown in my attempt at expressing how deep editing can go, and how long it can take if your really analyze each sentence and word, it seemed to at least begin to get the idea across. One ninety minute block period isn't an unrealistic time to clean up an essay; in fact, some writers would quickly argue it is only the beginning.

One of my favorite things about teaching adolescents in their view of the world; it is so straight forward. "This is how you write; this is how you fix, and then you are finished," their eyes tell me. As an adult I can look back and know I had the same view in my writing as a teen, and that I have since found writing to be a bit more layered and complex--just like life.

Every time I have students submit writing I experience a combination of excitement and dread. I love the glimpse they give me into their lives, and I get so weary of the time-intense process that evaluating and grading actually is. At best they will reflect their understanding of the writing process I tried to teach; at worst they show me the communication breakdown that ended with assignment a far cry from what I was hoping. And in that way I guess it makes my existence a lot like theirs, riding a roller coaster of emotional highs and lows while trying to assign objective grades to topics that are clearly a bit more complicated.

(Pardon the metaphor...)

Regardless, this weekend will find me with a stack of stories on my lap as we venture out of town for the weekend. The weather isn't expected to be stellar, but the scenery rarely fails to impress--with or without the sunshine. And that, my friends, makes any stack of grading a bit more enjoyable.

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