Monday, December 14, 2015

And The Moral of the Story Is.....?

    I just got back from seventh-period English class and my teacher, who was out sick Monday through Thursday last week, has come back. I was on a student court trip all day Friday, when she finally returned. I asked three other students from my English class about what happened on Friday, and they all said that the teacher chewed them out for talking during class and generally “disrespecting” the subs. She told them she hoped it wouldn’t happen again (dream on, Mrs. T - you’re teaching middle school). The students apparently tried to argue that the subs were just insane - which they were - but of course, two random teachers against a class of twenty-something eyewitness students? The students don’t have a chance.

    I have frequently noticed this pattern, as a matter of fact.

    So today, we began preparations for our next writing assignment, which is going to be a narrative. The teacher says it can be about anything we want as long as it has a theme. (Remember - when she says theme, she means moral.) My prediction is that we’re going to get a rubric about length, structure (i.e., introduce the conflict at the beginning, have two instances of rising action and two of falling action, etc.), and just about everything except plot, but teachers have varying definitions of “anything”.

    She is still determined that authors only write stories to teach life lessons, and that this is applicable in every case. I wholeheartedly disagree - maybe you can take a moral from most stories, but that doesn’t mean they were just written as lessons. Maybe it’s me, but that sort of makes it sound like fiction has to be justified - like you can’t just read or write a book for enjoyment, like I do; you have to be getting a life lesson from it. For instance, what is the moral of, say, any of the Harry Potter books? Do you think J.K. Rowling wrote them to teach that, I don’t know, friendship conquers everything or something equally sentimental? (And if she submitted Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for an English assignment before she published it, would her teacher tell her it was unsatisfactory because it didn’t follow some neat little rubric and she didn’t emphasize her moral?)

    I thought for a while about what I would write. Originally, I was trying to think of a way to skirt the guidelines and let her draw her own conclusions about the moral of whatever story I chose to write. Then I had a better idea: I would tell the story of a girl who loved to write, hated guidelines, especially for narratives, and thought her teacher’s opinions about morals - which, by a complete and utter coincidence, happened to be exactly the same as my English teacher’s - were kind of stupid. And I would ensure it was also good writing.

    Asking for trouble? Obviously - though that’s not why I came up with the idea. I just thought it would be a good piece of writing, and maybe make her think a little. (Not likely, but a girl can dream, right?)

    Today, she passed out blue index cards for everybody. We had to brainstorm potential themes for our narratives. She told us we didn’t have to make our final decision - we could change our minds when we started writing, and she just wanted us to have an idea of what we were going to write. Since I already had mine figured out, I got permission to skip the brainstorming page and just write mine. I assumed, when she didn’t collect it, that she would get them at the end of class, so I left mine on my desk. It read Moral: Not all stories have morals and so students shouldn’t be required to write every story with a moral.

    Looking back on it, it’s a lot more provocative than it seemed at the time. I could - and probably should - have left it at not all stories have morals. But still, it was legitimate. I already knew how I could write it.

    It’s probably easy to figure out where this is going, right?

    I got out my book and read for about fifteen minutes. Finally, she noticed I was done and asked for my card. Tensing, I handed it to her and innocently buried my nose back in my book, pretending I foresaw absolutely no impending explosion, while I waited for the impending explosion.

    “This isn’t a theme,” she stated coldly, handing the card back to me. “Try again.”

    “Why isn’t it a theme?” Okay, it’s obviously not the sort of theme she wanted, but I could write a story with this theme. I had already had it planned. I could prove it.

    “Because I’m telling you it’s not.”

    “Well, yes, I know, but why isn’t it a theme?”

    “Because,” she repeated, her voice hard, “I said it’s not a theme.”

    I could sense that to argue further would have been suicide. Irritated at her lack of answer, I erased my theme. She walked away, and immediately, the others at my table wanted to hear the controversial theme. I recited it for them.

    “Well,” I said, perking up as I recalled something she had said earlier, “she told us we could change it when we started writing. I’ll just put down some sentimental fake theme and write my story with the real one.”

    Janet suggested, “You should just do something like ‘Friends should always stick together.’”

    “Great,” I agreed, blowing eraser dust off my index card and writing it down. “Just the nauseating sort of thing teachers want.”

    Janet snorted in reply.

    The teacher saw as soon as I was finished writing and came over to retrieve my card. She picked it up gingerly, as if it was a bomb that could go off at any time. I could almost sense her relief as she scanned it. “Much better,” she said, an undercurrent of warning in her voice as she carried it away.

    Ha. If she thinks I give up that easily, she doesn’t know me very well.

    The moral of this story is: If you come up with a moral a teacher doesn’t like, she will treat you like a tantrumming two-year-old.

PS: Here is the story I eventually came up with and submitted.

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