Tuesday, September 4, 2018

"A Past Misdeed Returns As A Punishing Metaphor"


Let’s see how that works, shall we?  Keep the lights on.  It could get real sca-a-a-ry.

Nah.  It’s just a past misdeed returned as a punishing metaphor.

I was teaching in England. Substitute teacher in The United Kingdom’s Department of Education.  Tenth Grade. Not that I taught Tenth Grade. That’s just how low I was on The United Kingdom Department of Education totem pole.  (Not an actual designation, but I could not imagine any one lower, substitute teachers ranking somewhere below janitors.)  

Mr. Kinsman, the Headmaster at St John’s Church of England Infants and Juniors School (in the economically-challenged suburb of Kilburn) took an inexplicable shine to me, and, clearing out a not particularly large “Utilities Closet”, he created a class for me to teach regularly.  No longer an itinerant substitute, I had a permanent home at St. John’s.  (Sending mops, scrub buckets and squeegees into wandering exile.)

The problem was, 

I had no idea how to teach.

My sixteen or so students were eleven years old, and, like wild mustangs, they were unbroken to desk or to classroom.  I said nothing more often than, “Sit down!” 

I loved those kids. They were full of life and bristling with energy.  Oh, and with curiosity, as well.  Not about learning, about who walked past the window, to which they’d immediately dash and shout, “Oy!”   (Not the worrying Jewish“Oy!” the acknowledging Cockney “Oy!”, probably short for “Ahoy!” but you’d have to check “English Nautical Slang” to be sure.)

Though my job was to keep the kids busily occupied from nine till three,  

No one’d explained to me how.

So I made things up.  

Manufactured time-fillers… till the bell rang.  

Practicing “sums” – addition drills – I’d write ridiculously long math problems on the blackboard for my rambunctious charges to compute.  (Without computers, of course.  They’d habitually count on their fingers.)  The plan was, the longer the question, the longer it took them, meaning the longer the interval before, “What do we do now, Sir?”  (They called me “Sir.”  Just like Sydney Poitier.)  

The way I worked it, answering one math question could eat up oodles of dawdling school time.

Applying chalk to the blackboard – I get shivering “squeak twinges” just typing that – I would confront them with devised math challenges like the following:




You get the idea. 

Real long math questions. 

Taking forever to complete.

Or at least until recess. 

It worked pretty well. Until Mr. Kinsman paid a surprise visit to my classroom, took one look at the blackboard…

and scowled.

“The kids don’t understand these enormous numbers,” he explained.  “They need problems closer to their personal experience.  ‘Two cats plus three cats.’  ‘Four dogs plus one dog.’”

“Understood,” I replied. Knowing he was right.  If you were trying to teach mathematics.  Although maddeningly useless for getting successfully through the day.

So I compromised.  

Rather than erase my extended examples, I’d add familiar words to the existing ones.

Now it was…

178,946,629,515,704,288,927,351,794,187,882,168,749 cats


877,392,685,471,987,754,191,576,819,267,994,729,256 cats.

An amenable worthy compromise.  The kids studiously practiced their “sums.”  

And I made it to Lunch Hour.

Another ingenious time-filler – this time in “Art” – was the following.  (Teachers!  Feel free to copy these strategies.  They work!)

You distribute one sheet of 8-by-eleven construction paper to each student, along with the accompanying instructions:

“Fold the paper in half. Then fold it in half again.  Then fold it in half again.  Then fold it in half again.”

The students continue folding the diminishing sheet of paper in half until they are unable to fold it any further.  Then, as instructed, they unfold the paper back to its original dimensions.

They now had – normally in this exercise – an eight-by-eleven sheet of paper comprised of sixty-four, fold-bounded squares.  The final “Art” instruction was this:

“Draw a picture in each square.”

If the kids applied themselves diligently, you’d be surprised how long that would take.  If they “scribble-scrabbled”, they’d be sternly remonstrated and told to start from the beginning.  And this time, more “Artfully.”

Here’s where the punishing metaphor comes in.

As a fitting sentence for my pedagogical misdeeds, I am now doomed to live in the multi-squared universe I originally created.

Wherever I turn – from video games that are too fast for my brain and my fingers, to technological devices getting exponentially more complicated, to televised murder mysteries with their, for me, unfollowable twists and turns… 

I am, at best, an 8-square individual in a 512 – and frustratingly counting – square world.

This is my punishment.

That I envisioned at St. Johns,

And now must hellishly endure.

Oh, no.  

As I’ve been writing,

The mitosising paper

Just redoubled in squares.

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