Riddles and the Mark

RiddleOne of the most difficult thing about being a teacher is the fact that I cannot write much about my job.  That is to say, I can and — as this post will demonstrate — will, but the repercussions of lawsuits, job loss, and public humiliation always undermine my efforts to write about my life anymore.  Other topics such as my siblings, new houses, geek stuff, and adventurous excursions to far off realms may prove fodder for my ‘talents,’ I often fain from ranting of late.  It’s not the ‘been there, done that’ feeling per se, the ennui of a former life, but my writing has always centered around my feelings, ponderings, and frustrations about daily living.  What is the point of spreading my thoughts across this blank page if — much like a wayward girlfriend — my heart just does not want to commit.

So screw all that.  Time to start afresh (which I discovered the other day was one word, not two; the world indeed is awash with wonder, Charlie Brown).

For the sake of my financial independence both present and future, I’ve decided to disguise my students identity with an alias, or a faux nom if you’re feeling fancy or . . . perhaps French.  Thus, Students of the Murph, I dub thee . . . Robin.  Ta-da.  Now, those that know me may assume (which is always a mistake if you wish to avoid the title of ‘ass’ for both you and me) that I choose this appellation due to my obsession with Bruce Wayne and his alter ego, but you, Sir, could not be more wrong.  As a matter of fact, Robin serves as the perfect androgynous nom de plume for a school of either boys or girls.  Or both!  I could teach at either private or public.  You never know, because it’s a mystery.  I am totally relishing your confusion right now.

So this particular incident occurred the other day during an exam review session after school.  Many teachers volunteer their time to review the final test and acclimate their students to information long buried by snow days, proms and the promise of summer.

“Mr. Murph!  Hey, Mr. Murph!  Dude, I have a question!” Robin shouted to me from across the classroom without raising her hand.  It’s the little things that tend to push teachers over the edge.  I’ve answered this girl’s question ten times already: ‘Is the exam multiple choice?’ Somehow she continues to ask me the same question in different ways, which I’ve managed to handle the absence of listening skills, but the ignorance of etiquette and common courtesy nearly pushes me to the edge.

Plus, there’s that ‘dude’- thing, which is just odd. I thought only 80s surfers and Ninja Turtles used ‘dude’ anymore.

“Dude?” I ask with eyebrows raised — a subtle remonstrance, but highly effective if used properly.

“Really? Fine . . .” she huffs, “Mr. Murph . . . will you answer my question?  I’ve had my hand up for like literally forever.”

I don’t consider myself a grammar Nazi.  For example, I refuse to shift through chatrooms, correcting the atrocious and oft maligned crimes against the English language.  Frankly, such a hobby would depress me.  However, as an English teacher, I feel it my duty to correct student mistakes.  Unless, Robin was sired by gods or vampires, she had misused either ‘literally’ or ‘forever.’  Thus, making a mental note to explain the overuse of hyperbole and misuse of ‘literally,’ I fielded the student’s question.

“So, for the quote section,” she began, “is there going to be fill in the blank?”

“No,” I say, knowing that I’ve made this statement at least ten times.  “The test is all multiple-choice except for the essay.  Now is Romeo . . .”

“So there will be four choices?”

“What?”  Inwardly my sighs sound like the freight train.

“Like a, b, c, and d.  Those kind of multiple choice?  Are those on test?”

“Yes, Robin,” I sigh.  “Just like on your previous test.  You’ll have a word bank with letters designating each character who . . .”

“That’s not multiple choice.”  Arggg!  Interrupting now!  She’s interrrupting a teacher.

“You choose from . . . multiple . . . multiple choices.  Thus, multiple choice.”

“Well, we do not call it multiple choice,” she explains.  “We call that matching.”

“Whatever,” I shrug.  “Whether its four or twenty-four choice makes no difference to me what you call it.  You use a Scantron to answer; therefore, I deem the question multiple choice.  Now please stop interrupting and let’s focus back on the test content.”

“Will there be an essay?” shouted out another freshman Robin, a football player with bleach-blonde hair.  “‘Cause I hate essays.”

“Sorry to ruin your day then, because if you look to the back of your study guide, I outline the ess . . . ”

“Oh, wait!  No problem, bro,” he interrupts, flipping through his study guide.  “I found it . . . Do we need five paragraphs?”

Bro?  Dude, I can handle.  Time Lord or Dark Knight, I prefer, but I am nobody’s A-bro-ham Lincoln.  Still, if we were going to stop and chide after every grammatical error and stupid informality, the study session would last until dark.

“Only if those five paragraphs answer the question . . .” I reply.

“Yeah, but Mr. Murph, will you take off points if we don’t have five paragraphs.”

“You’ll be under pressure and the yoke of time.  The question does not demand a formal essay and five paragraphs, but I want it neat and organized.” (I shudder at these words, knowing that by admitting I will not grade them on the length of the essay, I will receive three sentences and maybe a doodle of a cat in a top hat because . . . hell, why not?).

Discussions like these have multiplied since the end of Easter break, to the point that assuaging panic is now integral to the daily classroom routine: “Okay class, sit down, take out your notes, and take a few moments to breathe.”

You’d be surprised how helpful a few deep breathes can be in maintaining your mental and physical sanity.  Teachers badgered by parents and students alike always seem on the cusp of losing their minds.  Students . . . well, they must eight exams in two days, no break in between. Some teachers do not offer study guides or study sessions to review material.  Others, after five months of rigorous movie-watching and diorama-building, find their grade books empty and turn to the final exams as sole representative of a student’s work and achievement.  Nor are all the exams alike.  I pride myself upon the ease and organization of my exam: 200 questions, all multiple choice and true-or-false.  From student accounts, many of these tests resemble cabinet instructions from Ikea, requiring students to drill, dig and divine for both question and answer like a 18th century homesteader with a dowsing rod.

In many ways, teachers have it easy . . .

They’ll also have to contend with the extra credit.  Other teachers loathe the very suggestion of extra credit.  I relish the opportunity to add a little fun to these end-of-year stressors, lynchpins to the kids’ academic and possibly financial futures that they are.  Last year, I ended the exam with the following question:

I received many divergent answers here, even among the Whovians, who — Ha — polarized by their favorite Doctor, chose from their favorite season.  The answer’s of course both obvious and incontrovertible, but I’ll let you ponder the correct answer in your own time.

This year I decided upon the theme of riddles, inspired in part by my love of mind puzzles but also because of Scott Snyder’s current story arc in Batman.  In doing so, I discovered two things:  1) my students are not very good at riddles, 2) my students enjoy drawing pictures to vent their frustrations at not being very good at riddles.  Take the following:

Four things there are, all of a height
One of them crook’d, the rest upright.
Take three away and you will find
Exactly ten remains behind.
But if you cut the four in twain,
You’ll find one half doth eight retain

 

I’ll let you mull over that one a bit.  Anyway, from a class of twenty, only one managed to come anywhere close to the correct answer.  Most ignored the riddle.  One or two agreed on ‘Jesus’ as the answer because ‘He is always the answer.’  Cute.  Yet, a few select students channeled their creative talents to create a few choice pictures.  One doodled Elsa from Frozen slaying a dragon.  Another illustrated our class testing Coke and Mentos bombs in the parking lot.  A blonde-haired junior scribed ‘All that glitters is not gold’ in Tengwar (Elvish), which greatly impressed me and earned her a few free points alone.  Lastly, one of the  honor students pictured the entirety of the chemistry classroom with beakers exploding around a pudgy science teacher (who I assume is me) singing ‘Let it go’ to a gallery of atoms (Bohr model).  Beneath the caption reads ‘Best science-class EVER!’

Overall the pay for this job sucks, but every once in a while the benefits outweigh all the stress and stupidity.

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