“Shamus, you have straight D’s this year,” the teacher says sternly. Unlike when I was little, my sixth grade teacher has the courtesy to meet with me alone during recess, rather than humiliate me in front of the other students when he needs to chastise me. I really appreciate this.
I nod. We’re just about halfway through the year. I knew this conversation was coming. I’m in sixth grade now, and my last two teachers had this same talk with me at the same point.
He looks down at the ledger he uses to to track grades and homework. The grid is speckled with little penciled X’s where kids have missed assignments. At the bottom of the page, next to the name “Young, Shamus”, is a long row of unbroken X’s, marching across through the weeks and months of schooling. It looks like the scorecard of a man who just bowled 50 strikes in a row. I know better than to show it, but I get a bit of perverse pleasure when I see this. I think about all the vast hours of homework I didn’t do, and am relieved.
I still hate school and refuse to bring any of it home with me. When I think of school I think of the bullying and the teasing and the rejection, and I’m anxious to put those things out of my mind when I escape at the end of the day.
“Here is what I’m going to do,” the teacher says. “I’ll erase aaaaall of these missed assignments if you promise to apply yourself and do your work from now on.”
I like this guy. Kind of. He’s not mean, or unjust. He assigns me homework, and I have a bit of a grudge about that, but I understand it’s his job. He works hard to get me to do homework, and I work hard to avoid doing it. It’s nothing personal. It’s like the Ralph the Wolf and Sam the Sheepdog passing each other at the time-clock on the way to work in the morning. I also knew I’d get this deal, because I was offered the same deal the past two years. My record will be cleared in exchange for a promise to buckle down and start working. Deep down, I want to do the work. Or rather, want to have the desire to do the work, which is the key ingredient I’m missing here. I accept the deal with a little guilt, knowing that I’m probably not going to hold up my end of the bargain. Then again, surely he knows how this deal is going to turn out? I can’t imagine these three teachers could all offer me precisely the same deal without discussing it.
I also sense that this whole grades system is probably a sham. The odds of me reliably getting straight D’s in all subjects, year after year, without managing to fail any of them, is shockingly low. I couldn’t orchestrate such an outcome if I wanted, and I strongly doubt it happened by chance. I didn’t know what to make of it before, but now I’m suspecting that these people have decided to pass me, regardless of whether or not I do any work.
Other kids have failed. Every once in a while there are whispers that so-and-so’s older brother was held back a year. I kind of suspect that they were held back because they weren’t learning. I do acceptably on tests, and demonstrate that I’m absorbing some of these lessons in spite of the daydreaming. So the teachers seem to be allowing me to slide by, while doing their best to wring work out of me when they can.
The big change in my schooling is that I have Mr. Markle for Special Ed. He is the finest teacher I’ve ever encountered, or ever will. He wins the kids over with jokes and an earnest interest in our well-being. Once my guard is down, he uses this friendship to trick me into taking a more active role in my own education. I do more work for Mr. Markle than for any other teacher, and I hate letting him down.
As in the past, I leave the regular classroom and visit Mr. Markle for specific subjects during the day. Other kids in grades four through six have the same arrangement. Since the various rooms all keep their own schedule, this results in kids coming and going at regular intervals. Sometimes there are as many as six students in the room at once, which is a lot for a Special Ed class. Mr. Markle has to work with each of us independently, and with a lesson crafted for that specific student. Someday I’ll be married to a schoolteacher myself, and I’ll come to appreciate just how much work this is.
Sometimes he deliberately challenges me with something hard, which I adore. Sometimes he drills me to make sure I retain the basics, which I loathe. He’s often adamant that I need to do my homework – especially my homework from my other subjects, which I routinely neglect. This is often a sticking point between us. He can’t find a way to motivate me to work, and I can’t find a way to avoid making him mad when I refuse to do it.
Heather mentioned me, and he remembered me. “I always knew he was a smart kid,” he said. It made my day when those words made it back to me. It was half my lifetime later, and I still valued his approval.
Alas that he retired in 2009. Still, I hope he’s enjoying the retired life to its fullest, and I hope he gets a double helping of years in which to do so.
This is actually my third year with Mr. Markle, but the past two have been such a smear of stress and misery that I wasn’t really learning so much as enduring. It’s not until this year that I really appreciate just how much I like this guy and just how much I look forward to his lessons.
Those of you who have been reading my blog for a few years know that I wrote that one sci-fi novel. What you don’t know, is that this was my second book. My first book was this one:
|My book has an artifact that looks like four interlocking triangles. You can’t accuse me of copying the Tri-Force from Legend of Zelda, since my book pre-dates the first Zelda game by three years. I had to keep explaining that the cover image was meant to be a montage (a task made harder by the fact that I didn’t know the word “montage” yet) and not a single literal image. My writing has improved over the years, but my drawing has remained largely unchanged.|
Yes, little Shamus, who hated writing, who never did any assignments, who refused to do homework, and who was daunted by a single worksheet, sat down and filled in 130 pages of a blank book with a contrived and thematically disjointed adventure tale.
In one long binge over the course of several months I made up for years of wasted spelling, writing, and penmanship classes by writing a “Choose Your Own Adventure“-style book. Looking at it, you can see all of these skills improve as you progress through the book. (Although the progression is obfuscated a bit by the fact that the book wasn’t written linearly.)
When the book is done, I bring it with me to class one day. My teachers are stunned. I really wish I could hear what they have to say about it in private. Well, on one hand, Shamus doesn’t do his work. On the other hand, here is a massive effort and demonstration of ability. On the other, other hand, we can’t just act as if Shamus did half a year of homework because he shows up with something crazy like this. I mean, even if you did, how would you grade it? But at the same time, this clearly demonstrates the kid is learning and… geeze. I dunno. What the hell is wrong with this kid, anyway?
Mr. Markle is very encouraging. I loan him the book, and he reads it to some of the other kids in his other classes. This creates a sensation of pure joy that I will not experience again until I become a blogger and have people spontaneously share my work on Reddit, Stumbleupon, and Facebook.
The book is not a brilliant example of the medium. It’s borderline unreadable on the early pages, the story itself isn’t particularly gripping, the choices are arbitrary, and most of the endings are stupid “gotcha” deaths. I’m not even particularly interested in the Atlantis mythos. I just picked Atlantis because there aren’t currently any CYOA books about Atlantis. Despite its shortcomings as a work of fiction, it’s an excellent illustration of the fact that my problem was always one of focus. I am a slave to my passions. I either must work on something, to the point of obsession, or I can’t work on something, regardless of punishment or rewards offered. There seems to be very little middle ground.
At twelve years old, I’m not able to see any of this objectively. When teachers ask me why I wrote this, or how, I don’t really have an answer. I just had to write it.
The product of fandom run unchecked, this novel began as a short story and grew into something of a cult hit.
A Lack of Vision and Leadership
People fault EA for being greedy, but their real sin is just how terrible they are at it.
Let's ruin everyone's fun by listing all the ways in which zombies can't work, couldn't happen, and don't make sense.
What was the problem with the Playstation 3 hardware and why did Sony build it that way?
Overused Words in Game Titles
I scoured the Steam database to figure out what words were the most commonly used in game titles.