Friday, March 25, 2005

The other day I wore what Kaveri calls my Miss Marple suit to class. (Wednesday, so fifth graders) "Why are you wearing a suit?" Me: "I had an interview." They were all agog. "Are you applying for something?!" "Yes, for a job." "But who will teach us proper English if you leave?!" "I bet the students at the other school are horrible!" "And the cafeteria food is rotten!" "Yeah, and they use textbooks from 1963!" "If you leave, Dr K [the director of the program and their math teacher] will take over. He'll be like, 'Uh, how do you spell 'perimeter'?'"
I was touched. I hadn't expected such an outpouring of affection from this particular class of dutiful, hesitant, somewhat reserved little people.

My Saturday fifth grade class is a society of Falstaffs in comparison. Three stories about that class:

One day I brought to class Roget's Thesaurus. I wanted to teach them to use it, and also to appreciate how many crazy synonyms English has. It went over better than I could have hoped: for the rest of the class Patrick would turn to Richard and say, "Bald as a billiardball!" And Richard would respond, "Plump as a partridge!" And they'd burst into peals of laughter.

I read the first chapter of Edward Eager's The Time Garden at the beginning of the term, only to be told by the director of the academy that really my students should be working the whole two hours. It didn't seem particularly tragic, given that they're all avid readers, but still, what a pity, what a waste to read the first chapter of a book and then stop. I wanted to know what they thought of it, but that first day they were too shy to talk; now I would never know. But I soon forgot about it. A few weeks later I gave them a reading list. "You're to choose one book from this list, read it, and then give a presentation on it to the class." "Can we read more than one book?" "Of course!" "Can we read all the books on the list?" "Absolutely!" I almost laughed. When the time came for the students to give their presentations, I was delighted to discover that four out of my eight students had read books by Edward Eager. I had forgotten, but they hadn't.

Another time we were studying transitive and intransitive verbs. One of the specimen sentences, courtesy of the University of Ottawa, was "The Stephen sisters are very talented: Vanessa paints, and Virginia writes." After we had ascertained that the verbs were not used transitively, I asked if those verbs were necessarily intransitive. "No," said Richard. "Give me an example." "You could paint — I don't know — a lighthouse, and then it wouldn't be intransitive." When he said "lighthouse" I nearly shouted. And they were all agog as I told them who the Stephen sisters were, and To the Lighthouse. I still can hardly believe the coincidence.

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