When egos, interests and agendas collide in the classroom, as anywhere, it is a recipe for disaster.
How, then, to constructively channel this destructive energy? This is the question occupying the teacher’s mind in Jeff Schiff’s A Paradigm for Effective Instruction – a bittersweet blend of whimsy and weight, and of form and theme in a topical American poem.
Perhaps the event that causes Schiff’s student to boil over is similar to that which raises the temperature of the pale man in Creative Writing Class. Here Chella Courington broaches another contemporary issue in the United States by tapping a question of style that has been running though American Literature since Huckleberry Finn escaped.
We finish, though, across the Atlantic with a teacher getting his just desserts. In Shirleen, sixteen, Harry Gallagher economically evokes the atmosphere of a 1970s English comprehensive in a working class milieu through an anecdote about an actual event that caused a stir when he was at school. Budge up, Pink.
A Paradigm for Effective Instruction
In the instant between jump and how high
as buckshot strikes casement glass
I drop to my office floor
wondering which students I’ve unwittingly humbled
which pointless assignment has them
crouched in evergreen shrubs
configuring windspeed & velocity
a calculus of clean headshot
In the eternity it takes
to spin a siren out of standstill and
pulse past the library to Liberal Arts
they hold low
impatient as in class
No required late night cramming here
No crib notes on the tablets of the palm
If only I could harness this drive
this paradigm for effective instruction
A teacher even in my panic
I begin to compose notes
to refute any and all arguments
I begin to systematize to parse
to debate: primacy vs recency…
begin to notice
how awfully cold my floor is
for the end of April
that Spring is too long
in piercing Mt. Agassiz this year
snow a slurry of blood
around my immaterial corpse
Creative Writing Class
The pale man in the back row
announces I am not a racist
never have been, never will be.
I don’t call his poem racist.
I say that I would not presume
to write in another person’s dialect.
I feel like pounding my desk
sending slivers left and right
to impale his mock ballad.
I say colored man demans the speaker.
I mean demeans. He glares,
pulls his cap to the side
You say I can’t write in a different voice.
I can’t write like a black man?
Tongue sliding in & out, he acts
like the guy who rubbed his penis
against my leg on the subway.
I sit on the desk, counting to ten,
when the woman in front turns
to him. I’m part African American,
your poem feels wrong, as if you
haven’t been there. Another student asks
What do the words mean? He raises
his dialect dictionary: It’s all in here,
Langston Hughes’ real language.
My eyes fixed to the floor
fingers unbending a paper clip,
I want to reach the student.
I want to say, you’re just copying words.
You don’t know what lies beneath.
My voice shaking, I ask
No one utters a sound
except the pale man in the back row
blue notes with a wailing slur.
Pregnant for the third time.
searching for a scratching post
on which to mark his patch
and impress an elder
Statesman Of Sadism.
His eyes light feverishly
as they alight eagerly
on the big black girl
at the back of the class,
who is looking outside
at a future made
from cots, kids, blokes
who will come and go,
then mid 30s grannydom.
The sound wave slaps her
back to the now
and the quivering thin man
Put out your hand, girl!
He is smacked in the ears by
and elder hovering
like a summer-sick wasp,
the cane descends full force.
By lunchtime everyone knew the story,
of how Wanker Watson
had picked on
The Wrong One.
How the girl-woman
had snatched the weapon
from his desperately sweaty grasp
and returned it full force.
And how with one mad act
a baleful monster
had its bubble pricked
by Shirleen, sixteen.