Dysfunctional Word Families

by Isabelle B.L 

My students draw five suns across their A4 sheet. Sun rays appear like shop brackets ready to hang their English skills.

I can just skip summer. They won’t notice.

“What about summer, Miss,” says Anna. Her hand raised.

“Oh what?” The students gaze at me as if I have blurted an alternative to be quiet or the S word, or the infamous F-word. “Just because we say quoi in French, you don’t reply with what in English. Manners, please students.” I recall a previous lesson.  

“Sorry. I mean, of course. Summer. Well done, Anna.” I clear my throat and stick an irritating lock of hair over my ear. My finger gets stuck in my silver hoop, and I sigh when the clock still has to tick tock for two hours until home time.

I break the chalk when I try to write summer in my big circle. I only draw three sun rays, but Anna yells a string of words associated with summer. A modern day Alectrona, waving both arms over quieter souls, thrusting stifling air and a golden sheen across the earth.

“How about we give others a chance to answer.” I write Anna’s fun and beach and scan the classroom for other suggestions. I smile at them. Cheeks glowing, proud smiles revealing metal teeth straighteners. When I turn my back to them as I write their definition of what summer is, I crumble the chalk within the walls of my palm, tip the alabaster pieces on the blackboard’s ledge and slide a brand-new piece of chalk out of its box like rolls of tobacco soldiers.

When the last pair of Clarks step out of the classroom. I rub my blackboard across and down. I draw five moons and hundreds of stars. My definitions of summer fly between the five moons and hundreds of stars as if the words want to strike but the moons and hundreds of stars play dodgem. Cigarette butts merge from the dusty ledge, plastic bottles fall from alphabet friezes, sharp metal can rings shoot through the wooden side frames. I scribble on the black surface. Thundering music, shark hunters, boats, boats and more boats like hundreds and thousands draped over buttered bread but the bread is stale, the butter is too oily. It’s too late to make another sandwich—the cheese is bruised and bleached like coral reefs.  I take two steps back and look at my universe. In the morning, Anna would be speechless. Dusters shouldn’t erase the truth.


I came here for the crystal blue waters with tinges of turquoise. I imagined strolling across sparkling sands. I dreamt of squawking seagulls supplying background vocals to sea song. I daydreamed of baby turtles hatching and following nature’s GPS into their future lifelong home. And if the tiny turtles scrambled toward cars, I would flash my torch in the direction of the sea. They would make a U-turn and escape the crunch.

I carry Goethe’s journey across Italy, like him, yearning for escapism, but while he wrote travel diaries, I create incomplete word families as if conception, pregnancy, the birth of another word would never be born.

I walk to the beach. Edgar Allan Poe sits patiently on my beach towel as I look for a pocket of rectangle on which to lie my towel and me. And when I do find that coveted space, cigarette butts are scattered like an army. I bring an empty jar—I’m used to it—and drop the pale orange sticks in the glass. Has the beach turned into a nightclub? Beach ball or is it a disco ball, strikes me on the shoulder, thumping music eclipses Poe’s Nevermores and my pupils don’t move like a typewriter following a line of words but stop at Raven, and I wish that Ravens would join seagulls and sweep through the air, over the invaders ending the rubber’s, metal’s, plastic’s voyage to fin-land.

A man appears while I search for color in the once colorful sea bottom. He dangles a lifeless octopus, the length of the man’s daddy-long- legs and poses for cameras. I hold my belly, bolt to the crumpled towel, wipe my watery eyes and find myself in a blinking frenzy, crying sand.


When I walk into the classroom, my students are pointing at the blackboard. Anna has her arms crossed, Chloe tilts her head to the side, Lucas uses his online translator.

A teacher should teach grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation and improve listening, reading and oral skills. Facts make their way into workbooks, on blackboards, on multiple choice questions, and where does that leave truth?

My students lean in waiting for an answer to their Please Explain, Miss. So, I explain. And we create word families.

Words associated with Summer.


Ice cream




Anna is speechless.

Climate change


Ice cream wrappers







Hope                                             Octopus danglers







I was about to knock on the principal’s door. Letter of resignation signed, but then I thought about truth, transmission, travelling beyond textbook ideas of teaching because language can change the world.