Thursday, September 15, 2011

To Quote My Grandmother: "Why Are Teenagers So Stupid?"

I promised myself that I would not use this site as a teenager-bashing forum. But, I just can't resist putting this up.  It just happened in one of my senior English classes.

Currently, we are reading Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger; we are seven chapters into it. This is one of my favorite unit to teach: I read it aloud to the students with plenty of dramatic flair, I am really good at connecting the protagonist's experience to theirs (and with teens, if you make it about them, they are in), and using it as a tool to build their skills of analysis.


This is the cover of their copies.

They've taken a couple of quizzes, we've had discussions, and they have had a copy checked out to them.  At this moment, the students are working on completing some analysis questions for those chapters we've read. I always preface these questions with the statement, "These are not recall questions. This story is not that hard to follow. These questions require you to think of the significance of what's happening in Holden's life."

Students nod, either to acknowledge an appreciation for their budding intelligence or because they just want me to shut up so they can figure out where they are going to get wasted this weekend.

I go to my desk to input attendance and to email my sister. Oh, and to check in on the blog.

I see the blur of a white T-shirt in my peripheral as a student approaches me.  "Uh, Ms. Vance, who is Salinger."

Without shifted my eyes from the computer screen, I throw out the side of my mouth, "The author of the book."

A few minutes later, an second student asks me the same question. Much to my chagrin, I realize that students are getting stuck on question #3: "Compare and contrast Ackley and Stradlater [characters in the novel]. Why do you think Salinger has Holden interact with them?"  To try to waylay further irritation, shuffled over to my podium so that I am at the center of attention and announced to the class: "J.D. Salinger is the author of the book."

A chorus of "Ohhhhhhh"s fills the room. I smile, give them a curt nod, and return to my computer.

One young lady, who is very pretty and therefore very popular and therefore, therefore hasn't seen the need to develop her brain says, "Oh my God, this is a biography?"

I peer from around my computer screen, "No, honey. Make-believe stories are written by humans too."

She blinks at me, and then to save face, flicks her hair back. I think two boys who sit across the room from her swoon. Fluttering her beautiful green eyes to the ceiling, she says knowingly, "Oh, so then he's one of the characters. But, which chapter was he in?"

Holy shit.  And it's only 2nd period. I have two more periods of seniors ahead of me.

For 3rd period, I decide to nip this in the bud. As soon as I pass out the questions, I tell the class to look at question #3 and then say, "Salinger is the author of the book. I just wanted to make sure you all knew that before ten of you ask me and I flip out because several people last period asked me who he was."

This time, I get a chorus of, "Who doesn't know that? What dumb-asses [I think the exact word they use is  'fuck-tards' but I find that really offensive and dumb-ass means the same thing]," but then I notice a few of their classmates studying the cover of Catcher, as their shoulders roll forward, they hunker down a bit, and then glance up nervously to see if anyone else noticed that they were one of those "dumb-asses."

Monday, September 5, 2011

Third Campaign, First Challenge: Flash Fiction, Baby!

The first challenge for us campaigners is to write flash fiction starting with the phrase "the door swung shut."

A Discovery

The door swung open and Detective Corey Malone eased into her apartment.  The reek of rotting flesh made it difficult to breathe.
     Her eyes scanned for signs of blood on the walls, on the floor. They caught on a pair of feet protruding from her bedroom. 
     Squaring her shoulders, she inched forward. 
     Corey began a slow examination of the entire body.  The victim lay naked, face-down, but she knew it was male: his hands were large, his waistline straight, and the angles of the shoulders square and sharp.  Bruises spotted his back. The head was crushed on the right side, hunks of brain tangled in the blood-drenched hair. Her eyes searched the body, trying to piece together what seemed strange about it.  Obviously, the victim sustained a series of blows to his back, shoulders and head, but even with the swelling, she noticed that there was a lack of synchrony amongst the different parts of his body.  And the way he was lying -- it seemed awkward.
      Awkward.
      Corey was staring at the corpse of a teenager. A teenager that looked just like her partner’s son.
      A warning. She was not doing what the killer wanted.
      The front door swung shut. 

Friday, September 2, 2011

To Quote My Grandmother: "Why Are Teenagers So Stupid?"

The only good thing about starting the new school year is that my supply of funny teenage anecdotes will be replenished.

This is my fifteenth year of teaching, so those first few days of school have lost their novelty. I no longer spend days in the summer decorating the classroom (the posters from last year are just fine); I sleep soundly the night before; and I am not pulsing with excited, nervous energy as fresh new tanned faces come beaming into my room. It's kind of like birthdays after 30: whatever.

But I did learn a few things during this first week of school.

I learned that I am completely desensitized to teenage shenanigans. As an ice-breaker exercise, I have each student introduce themselves by paring an adjective that starts with the same letter as their first name with it and then explain how that word reflects an aspect of their personality. It introduces alliteration, helps them practice elaboration, and helps me learn their names more quickly.

Of course, I demonstrate: "I am Hilarious Holly because I love to make people laugh."

And to ward off trouble, I remind them that their adjective needs to be classroom appropriate.

But this year, first period of the day, first student to introduce himself says this: "I am Juicy Joshua because when you squeeze me you never know what's going to come out."

Day 1, people. Really?

My reaction: I yawned. Forty pairs of wide eyes stare at me. Silence blankets the classroom.  Smacking my lips together, I say, "Thank you Josh for demonstrating what is not classroom appropriate and for making me throw up in my mouth before it's even 8:30."

I also learned that I have "swag."  In case you don't know, "swag" is short for swagger, which means confidence and "game." So, I guess I'll add that to my dating profile and maybe I'll get matched with twenty-one year-olds. Groovy.

My colloquial lexicon continued to expand. When I asked "Beast Brandon" why he chose that word-- after I told him that it is not an adjective, so then he said, "I meant 'beasty'"--he looked at me and said simply, "Because I'm a beast."

"Well, you don't look very hairy to me," I said.  "And your hands aren't claws, so I'm not sure what you mean."

I wasn't sure I wanted to know what he meant; the echoes of "Juicy Joshua" ringing in my head.

"It means I'm tough," Brandon tells me.  Then he flexes his cannons, just in case I need a visual.

Upon asking for a more specific definition, I learned that a "beast" can take a lickin' and keep on tickin'. Stars of actions films are usually "beasts," like characters played by Chuck Norris and Jason Statham.

And finally, I can add "put her (or him) on the blast" to my harvest of knowledge for the week. In my junior college class, I have them introduce each other, and one student said about his partner, "She is very shy so she hates that I am putting the blast on her right now."

Being a trained professional and holding a master's degree in English, I was able to figure out what the student meant, but I inquired anyway. I want to throw down my slang accurately. What "putting the blast on someone" means is to draw attention to or put the spotlight on someone. I asked if I could shorten it to just "blasting him/her," but I was told that the "put her (or him) on" part was critical. "To blast" someone is totally different than "to put someone on the blast."

So, now that I've finished putting my first week of school on the blast, I'm going to use my swag to tame some beasts. But, I am not getting anywhere near anyone who is juicy.