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Tuesday, May 21, 2013


“Write about a time when something unexpected happened,” I’d told the students.

It was during the first few days of teaching eighth grade in Dallas, and I was trying to gauge the student’s skills in order to determine what concepts and skills would most urgently need attention.

I’d spent a good ten minutes going over the instructions. I thought I’d made the expectations clear, but very few students were actively writing. It annoyed me that my time was being spent patrolling behavior instead of supporting the writers.

One student was especially committed to his task, though. His page was nearly covered in writing while others nearby remained blank. He rarely completed his assignments, so this unbridled passion was very unexpected.

“Yo, Miss!” he called out. “What’s another word for ‘annoy’, ‘specially when you are starting to get mad?”

Glad you asked, Robert.

“The first word that comes to my mind is ‘irk’. That’s I-R-K. Here, let me use it in a sentence for you,” I said, happy for the impromptu vocabulary enrichment opportunity.

Plenty of students, noticing that I was otherwise engaged, were now completely off-task and socializing.

I increased my volume significantly as I created a context-rich sentence for Robert. “Does it irk you that so many people are not following directions?”

A few students snapped back to attention, but one—let’s call him Jay-Z—was out of his seat and clear across the room trying to impress the ladies.

“It is really starting to irk me that Jay-Z is flirting with Beyonce instead of working on his assignment. Perhaps he’ll need to stay after school to finish it.”

Jay-Z glared at me and sauntered back to his seat, and Robert returned to writing.

That night, I reviewed their writing samples. Mechanically, the writing was rough—‘suposeta’ and ‘useta’ were frequent fliers, and it took me an embarrassingly long time to realize this was ‘supposed to’ and ‘used to’.

The mini-memoirs featured situations that were definitely unexpected.

  • Moving to a new apartment a little ways down the street because of an advertised special on rent, and then finding out that it was part of a different attendance zone 
  • Discovering a cockroach infestation in the kitchen
  • Learning that a friend or relative had been killed
  • Getting beat up and having all the groceries stolen while running an errand for the grandparents
I cursed myself for having chosen this prompt. Each one was more heartbreaking than the previous.

Then I came to Robert’s.

Young Robert, it seems, had arrived a bit late to a party. When he stepped through the door, he began to scan the room in search of his best friend. What did he see? 

There was his own girlfriend, sitting on the lap of his best friend. Making out.

“So I see my girl sitting on his lap kissing him. Tongues and everything. Well, it irk me like a chicken irk a cat. So I says you can both go to hell. And then I left.”

I’d never be able to convey the sweet irony to Robert. An unexpected situation which had brought him such pain and anger had unexpectedly delivered a refreshing dose of humor right when I’d needed it most.

1 comment:

  1. Your blogs have become a little escape for me and this one was perfectly placed in my day of frustration and a full cup of tea spilt in my lap.

    Thank you!