It’s mid-December and I’m on my third round of essays. By now, students know what I expect. Or, I should say, most of my students know what I expect.

For about 10 percent of my kids, I’m just not sure what they’re hearing while I’m talking. Take, for instance, the simple box-checking task of M.L.A. paper submission formatting.

In the first quarter, I used a Prezi lecture to introduce and model the format. I projected good and bad examples on the whiteboard. I left the Purdue O.W.L. link on the board for two weeks, highlighting it with red and yellow arrows. I even made the formatting a discussion point during peer-editing rounds of our writers’ workshop sessions. I mean, really, how hard is it to understand one-inch margins, left-justified, double-spaced, 12-pt. Times New Roman with correct heading and headers? Apparently, it’s tricky.

As I graded this third round of papers, I still found the occasional writer who ignored the M.L.A. Now, I love a rebel and I’m all about taking a stand against oppression. But choose your cause, people. Essay formatting is not the time to go rogue.

So I’ll admit, I was frustrated, grumbling to myself about kids-these-days-I-mean-come-on-how-hard-is-it-to-left-justify-a-heading? But soon my heart began to thaw as I asked myself the question that always pulls me back from the edge, “Do you think you would’ve done any better when you were 14, Laura?” The answer, of course, is always no. In my freshman year, I was mostly thinking about a boy named Ricky, a blue-eyed junior who drove a totally bitchin’ Mazda RX-7. Ah, I remember that time that we…oh, but I digress.

What do I always do when the grouchy has passed and I still have kids who need help? Launch Photoshop and get to work. The answer (I hope!) will be this newly created handout, which clearly, explicitly shows my lost teens what to do. I’ve stapled a copy to the final drafts of the incorrectly formatted papers and part of those students’ essay corrections will be to re-submit a properly formatted Page 1 to me. This handout (click here for a free copy to use in your own class) will also now be part of my introduction to M.L.A. lecture, leaving me hopeful that my brow won’t be so deeply furrowed at this time next year. We’ll see how it goes…

Teach on, everyone!

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