It is finished.
The school year.
I survived. So did my students.
I will remember many things from this past year, including the students who – in hopes of a good grade – declared me “hotter” than Megan Fox. Sycophancy is alive and well, I’m happy to say.
I will remember a group of students finding an inflatable palm tree in my Student Council cabinet and blowing it up. Nothing like a blow-up mascot to entertain eighth and ninth graders in the final two weeks of school.
But there is one particular lesson from this year that I will always remember. We were doing a week long Introduction to Shakespeare unit. The previous day, I had given my eighth graders a handout of Shakespearean insults that the Bard had included in his plays (thanks to the Folger Shakespeare Library for creating brilliant lessons teachers can steal). Students had to take the word “Thou,” follow it with two adjectives from the list, and add a noun to create the best insult they could. That night, they had to memorize their insult and walk into class the next morning and sling it at me with gusto. It was worth a small homework grade. To score perfectly, they had to sound angry.
I’m pretty sure my students enjoyed this assignment. The next day, most of them walked into class, swaggered over to me, and spat out something like this.
But I will always remember a student I’ll call Vincent, a boy who greeted me everyday as he walked into class. “Good morning, Ms. Shirtliffe,” he’d say. He’d never join the lunchtime fray in the hallway without thanking me for the class.
Perched on my stool awaiting the onslaught of more insults, I noticed that Vincent paused at the doorway, pulled a sheet of paper from his backpack, and practiced his insult in whispers. Always an honours student, Vincent once again wanted a perfect mark.
He dropped his backpack on his desk. He watched the remaining classmates insult me.
Then he edged forward.
Vincent channeled his inner actor.
He looked me square in the eye, pointed his index finger at me, and said angrily,
It was the slip of a single letter. A consonant blend gone awry.
In the pregnant moment that followed, students collectively inhaled while Vincent – eyes bulging, hands on mouth – stepped backwards.
“I assume you meant scut?” I asked.
And then I laughed. One of those head-on-your-knees, shoulder-shaking, tears-flowing, extended-mix laughs.
“I’m so s-s-sorry,” Vincent said.
I’m confident that – prior to that morning — Vincent had never sworn, let alone called a teacher a slut.
He sat on the floor, then crab-walked to his back-row desk.
Vincent kept apologizing. I kept assuring him it was okay.
Before long he too joined in the laughter.
What has made you laugh recently?