Wednesday, February 11, 2009

That Which Pays the Bills

When I'm not busy putting things in parentheses, revising a query letter that has now garnered two rejections (that's right-another one today, baby!), working on a novel, playing with The Little One, romancing The Wife (she'll get a kick out of that), helping women free their foreign cars from the snow, or reading books (Millicent Min is just not doing it for me), I can often be found teaching. In a real classroom. They actually let me do this.

This week, my students have been typing the realistic fiction stories they've been working on for the past month. I walk them down to the computer lab and they sit there and laboriously peck out letter after letter. Here are things my third graders suck at (just in case you ever wanted to write a scene in which underprivileged third graders type something):

1. Indenting paragraphs. Although, in fairness, most of them have no clue why you would bother with such a thing as paragraphs in the first place. And a few of them refuse to acknowledge their existence, even in the face of incontrovertible evidence, such as actual books with actual paragraphs.

2. Using the SHIFT key.

STUDENT: Mr. Murphy, how do I do the exciting mark?
MR. MURPHY: (trying hard not to sigh in exasperation, as he as explained this tricky maneuver more than a few times already) Well, Timmy, hold down the SHIFT key and press the number one. Like this.

3. The spacebar--apparently, in the mind of a typical third grader, the spacebar is meant to be pushed anywhere from two to five times between words and not at all after periods.Annoying.

4. Quotation marks--Most of my students do actually use quotation marks in their writing. (Lots of them--nearly all girls--have, in fact, written hardly anything but dialogue.) Their trouble is in 1. Figuring out that the SHIFT key must be utilized and 2. Failing to put a space after their periods so that their quotation marks curl in the right direction.

Actual conversation from today:

BOY: I keep getting the 99s and I want the 66s.
MR. MURPHY: ??????
BOY: I need the 66s.
MR. MURPHY: What are you talking about?
BOY: Every time I do the talking marks I get 99s. I need the 66s.
MR. MURPHY: (trying very hard to not just walk away) Show me.
MR. MURPHY: (Finally realizing what the hell the kid was talking about) Oh! You need a space after that period, like this.
BOY (smiles) Thanks, Mr. Murphy
MR. MURPHY: (Thinks: This must be what they mean when they say teaching is rewarding.)

On the other hand, my students are very good at wasting time changing their fonts and screwing up the margins. So they got that going for them.


Meradeth Houston said...

If it makes you feel any better, you could just replace "third-grader" with "college freshman" and see the same thing. I often wonder how some of my students actually graduated from high school :-)

Unknown said...

Yes. I often feel that I may have already lived through this country's best years.

Anita said...

Whenever I volunteer at my kids' school, I have to drink half a bottle of wine when I get home. My husband and I are doing a three-hour Italian tea and Valentine's Day party on this Friday...Saturday is shaping up to be hang-over city.

Ray Veen said...

This post cracked me up. Did you know I have TWO third-graders?

Their computer experience is almost exclusively limited to Webkinz and Littlest Pet Shop Online.

And yes, I'm back.

Anonymous said...

Holy crap, you're actually teaching third graders how to type? I fully had no idea how to do that until I got to high school.

Come to think of it, learning how to type is one of my only clear memories from high school. Oh, that and terrible awkwardness, emotional turmoil, and constant rejection from girls.

I also watched a fair bit of TRL.

Anyway, thanks for teaching the future persons of America how to type.


Oh, and have you checked out any of the Bartimaeus trilogy by Jonathan Stroud? Dude is amazing.

Unknown said...

Anita--I prefer beer (and grape Kool-Aid, of course.

Big Plain V--Welcome back! Laptop fixed or did you break down and buy new?

Ben--I would say I'm sorry for your high school experience, but I imagine those years sowed some fertile story telling soil and since you're pubbed and I'm not...well, on second thought, sorry for your high school experience. And no, haven't yet read Bartimaeus. It's one of those series that you can't get away from in the library and I'm always a little suspicious of such things.

Unknown said...

I didn't learn to type until 9th Grade and then it was on an electric typewriter. Scary thing is I'm only 30 years-old. Boy, have things changed. My fourth grade students did the same kinds of things, hunt-peck-hunt-peck, and then there would be a handful of kids who spend every living minute of home-time on the computer. They would type their projects in 10 minutes and be playing Oregon Trail before I could say "Go ahead and print." Funny note: I used to call the hunt-peck kids hunt-and-peckers and then I realized how inappropriate it was. Hope I never said that to a parent.

Anonymous said...

Paul: Dude, you gotta give Bartimaeus a shot. The book is a pretty cool twist on the boy wizard thing, and not to be too much of a fanboy here, but Jonathan Stroud is super awesome and charming and awesome.

Sorry. That came off a little stalkerish. He was at that conference I went to in Utah, and he was really nice and consistently tossed people over to my book signing table, which was really nice of him.

Oh, and I love that Tracy just wrote "hunt and peckers." If I ever get in a folk rock band, that would be my first choice for our band name.


Unknown said...

Ben--I'll give it a shot. I've got Graceling and The Graveyard Book in the stack and I plan on reading Sophomore Undercover in the very near future. (You must be freaking out; the date draws nigh.)Thanks for the recommendation and since my current project (in revision) is humorous YA, let me know of any books that are must reads. I assume you've read quite a few, given your genre. (I prefer male protags.)

Angela Ackerman said...

I feel your pain. Each year I teach writing to 3 & 4th graders--I'm lucky if I get punctuation. Oi. I think teachers must have degrees in linguistics just to be able to decypher handwriting, too. Fun times, trying to figure out some of those mis-spelled words...

Monica said...

well. if it makes you feel better, you can replace 'third grader' with 'the majority of the population'.

I had two third graders, now they are completely literate teenagers, and i thank their grade school teachers for that. (and my personal obsession with spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc.)

do your third graders know the sublime thing which are parentheses?

Unknown said...

I have two students that regularly (and correctly) use parentheses.

And they get automatic A's.

Kelly Polark said...

I used to teach third grade also. Typing would take FOREVER! My 9 yr old son says that at his school they have a program that helps to learn the typing keyboard, which I am hoping will be helpful in the future. My mom made me take typing in high school, and I'm so glad I did!