EARLY IN MY CAREER I came up with a humorous approach for dealing with minor violations of classroom decorum.
I realized essay punishments could be humorous and effective.
In most cases, I simply wanted kids to quit goofing around or talking too much. No sense treating breaches of etiquette like criminal infractions. Stick them with a 150-word essay as a simple reminder. Making it comical allowed peers to share a laugh and showed students you wanted to have fun in class, while still expecting everyone to abide by the rules. When Kayla was tardy too often, I had her write about how she became a fashion icon by inventing concrete shoes. On another occasion, Josh seemed to be writing a love note instead of doing his assigned reading. I had him write an essay about falling asleep in class and getting his history book stuck to his face for a week.
As you might expect, he explained in his essay how his rare affliction made it impossible to flirt with the girl of his dreams.
One day, Angie got in trouble for some minor matter. I had her write: “I Collect Belly Button Lint for a Hobby.” Angie didn’t stop at 150 words. She was a collector in the truest sense. Her essay filled five pages. She had lint from actors, from every president in the last twenty years, and dreamed of finding the Holy Grail of lint—from the belly button of Elvis Presley (assuming Elvis was still alive).
In most cases punishment fit the “crime.” One day, Rob came flying through my door, with a friend in hot pursuit. Before I could tell them both to slow down Rob tripped and somersaulted across the linoleum. He dusted himself off without injury, but I made Rob write about his life as “The Human Cannonball.”
Wendy R. (a straight-A student) had to write an essay after laughing once too often and disturbing class. I forget the title; but she pinpointed her friend Wendy M. as the source of all her difficulties “At times Wendy’s nostrils will go in and out as if they were controlled by a motor.”
That was her reason for laughing.
Max tended to turn around too often and talk to friends. One day I grew tired of viewing the back of his head.
I HAD HIM WRITE about having a giant tongue. In his essay he called Landon, the friend who had lured him into sin, to inform him of his tragic condition. The essay followed the conventions of a popular Budweiser beer advertisement:
“Hello.” [Landon answers.]
“Hey, man. I would finish the lines in the commercial but I just gotta ask. What’s wrong with your voice?”
“Miy tung iz big,” I said angrily.
“Oh, I see.
“Wat sod I du?”
“Gee, got me.”
“Tanks, yor no hep.” Then I hung up…..
ONE LAST EXAMPLE deserves mention. One day a young man got in trouble for talking during detention. I asked him to write “The Life of a Cucumber.”
His story began: “I started out the first part of my life in a little cold plastic bag. The bag sat on a shelf in the store, for a long time before some one decided to buy the bag of seeds.”
This essay was not particularly funny, but carried the name of the author, Brian ----. Only Brian’s handwriting was unusually good.
Normally, Brian’s handwriting was abominable.
I still have my notes describing the incident: “Caught Brian ----lying today because his mother wrote his punishment essay. Brian claimed, in declining order:
1) he wrote it; she corrected it
2) okay, no, mom wrote part
3) well, yes, she wrote it all.
I called Mrs. ---- that evening and she offered lame defense: “I don’t see anything wrong with a mother helping a child.”
“Nor do I,” I responded. “But you weren’t helping. You did the essay for him and let him off his punishment entirely.”
I told her Brian would have to write a different essay entirely; but if it had been in my power I would have given her a topic all her own to do: “What Happens to a Boy when Mom is an Enabler?”
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Also: I loathe standardized tests and explain why in my work.