A true story:
I’m with my most-rambunctious freshman class this morning, and students have been assigned to analyze bits of Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s “Harrison Bergeron.” I’ve modeled these lit. analysis skills at length and we’ve worked through several pieces in small groups, but it’s time for students to unpack a story all by themselves via short-answer response. Keep in mind that this is my squirreliest class, heavy with 14-year-old boys who ache for any distraction. Today’s activity requires them to think – and think deeply – and a significant number of them would rather do anything than the heavy mental lifting I’ve asked of them.
We’re mid-way through the activity and the only sound is the scratching of pencils on paper (ah – the sweet sound of progress) when through the wall to the neighboring classroom two adolescent male voices bellow a butchered Miley Cyrus hit. “I came in like a wrecking ball. I never hit so hard in love…” Ah, yes, my colleague’s annual literary terms presentation day. Ugh. Clearly, this must be the caterwauling of the simile/metaphor group. “All I wanted was to break your walls…”
My class bubbles with snickers and raised eyebrows; all work ceases as the delicate calm is cracked. Uh-oh, I think, here we go.
“Yes, they’re clearly having more fun than you are,” I joke. “Okay, okay, everyone, settle down. You have 15 minutes to finish, so just try to ignore them.”
Mercifully, the group on the other side of the wall finishes and calm is restored in my room. Just as the pencils return to the papers, a trio of banshees shriek, “‘Cause all of me / Loves all of you / Love your curves and all your edges / All your perfect imperfections…”
Dammit! It’s the hyperbole group warbling John Legend sap. My class erupts in laughter and I know I’m in trouble. Order will not be so easily restored a second time; I feel my blood pressure begin to rise.
“I think one of them’s Eric Lee,” a popular basketball player loudly tells his friend two rows away, and the mounting wave of voices, laughter, and distraction threatens to swallow my room. The kids in the other class are really belting it out, too, playing the moment for laughs with plenty of off-key trills and forced voice cracks. They’re having a great time.
In this moment, I have a choice:
I can bang on the wall like a rabid apartment dweller. No – too rude.
I can call my neighbor on the phone and complain, asking her to keep things quiet. No – too witchy with a “b.”
Or, I can make my point with humor. I grab a sheet of paper and a thick marker, scrawling:
Without saying a word, I face my class, hold my sign aloft for all to see, nod my head, and leave the room. Three seconds down the hall, I open the door to my neighbor’s classroom, boldly hoist my judge’s rating for all of her students to see, and the room explodes in laughter.
I return to my class and, suddenly, I am the hero.
“Too funny, Ms. Randazzo.”
“Ok, now that was awesome.”
“So, who was singing, Ms. R.?”
Wielding my newfound respect, I smile and remind the class that there’s just 10 minutes left to finish. Pencils are immediately back in motion and the period ends on a sweet note.
Later, my friend from next door stops by to give me a hug and tell me that my timing was perfect. At lunch, three former students who were in the room and witnessed my inner Simon Cowell stop by to commiserate and complain about their blistered eardrums.
Could I have handled that moment with more grace and tact? Certainly.
Do I regret my impulsivity? Not at all.
We all know that a sense of humor is a job requirement around here. Sometimes, you just gotta roll with the crazy.
“Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone.”
– Ella Wheeler Wilcox, “Solitude,” 1883