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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Do Not Stick Head in Oven

Pursuant to my promise of retelling some of my best tales from the Dark Side, I decided to share this little tale with you.

Early on in my tenure as the 7th Grade English teacher, the Department of Education began visiting the school on a regular basis since we were becoming a prime example of what not to do in a residential. Basically we were screwing up left and right- not aligning with the Massachusetts Curriculm Frameworks, not having text books that were produced in this decade, not having paper. At this point, I was still new to the place and I still believed that I could teach these kids something important. I love to read and I love literature. My apartment is literally being held up by books. I knew that these kids deserved the opportunity to be introduced to some of my own personal favorites.

One afternoon I took all of the spelling workbooks that still used "colour" and piled them on top of the 3rd grade grammar books in the back cabinet and locked it. Then I pulled out my Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry and started photocopying selections. Four hours later I had a pile of poems and my plan book was loaded for bear.

The next morning I came in a little early and chose a quote from a favorite author to write on the board (sorry to say I can't remember which I chose) and set a packet of poetry on each desk. I went downstairs to pick up my boys who were sticky with syrup from breakfast and led them up to the classroom. One or two of them sat down and leafed through the packet, then looked at me like I had flipped my lid. A few didn't even glance at it before they settled in for their morning nap. I did not, however, get discouraged. These kids were going to get a little poetry in 'em if it killed me.

I told them to open their packets to Sylvia Plath's poem Elm. I read them the poem, trying my best to imitate Sylvia's voice which I had heard so many times on the tapes that one of my college professors had given me. Of course I kept my eyes on the paper in my hand because there was no way I wanted to look up to see my kids rolling their eyes at me or using their packets to roll joints, so I just kept reading. When I was done with the poem, I took a chance on looking up. As expected, a couple of the packets were on the floor, already forgotten. But a couple of them were still on desks, clasped in clammy, syrupy hands. And one of my students, Ryan, looked up and asked me, "Why is her poetry so...dark?"

I started telling them about Sylvia and what an emotionally tortured individual she was and how she used her poetry as an outlet for her pain.

Then Ryan asked, "Is she still alive?"

"No. Sadly she killed herself when she was still fairly young."

"Oh." Ryan thought about that for a minute. "How'd she do it?"

Left myself wide open for that question. "She stuck her head in the oven."

And the moment I said that, the entire class was suddenly not only conscious, but they were riveted. Every kid had his hand in the air, hoping I'd let his question be next. Of course raising your hand and actually waiting to be called on are two very different things so one of my students stands up and yells, "How the fuck did that work? What, did she heat up her head until she died?"

I was mentally banging my head against a wall. I should have known this was going to be a disaster the moment I opened my mouth. I explained that no, she did not indeed broil herself to death, that ovens used to be gas so if you turned it on and stuck your head in it, the fumes would eventually kill you.

Ryan continued to look pensive. "I'm going to try that when I get back to the unit tonight."

"NO!" I yelled. "Ryan you can't do that. First of all it's stupid. Second of all...the ovens in the unit are electric. It won't work. Rule number one when reading Sylvia Plath- do not try this at home. Do not stick your head in the oven!"

Ryan gets up, grabs a white board marker, marches up to the board and writes, "Rule #1- Do Not Stick Head in Oven. Love Miss Kate".

Guess what was still on my board the next morning when the Department of Education came to observe me?


  1. LOL! Thank you for a giggle before my school day 'teach.... :-)

  2. LMAO! Wow that is hilarious. Haha 'do not try this at home.'