The Side Board

I’ve reached the two-month mark of my long-term guest teaching gig for 8th-grade language arts. The students has taught me volumes about their culture, their creativity, and their uniquely diverse views on life.

On the side wall of the classroom there is a white board that Ms. Stedman, the maternity-leave teacher who asked me to fill the gap for her, has used for students to put comments, dry-erase marker drawings, and gibberish on. I had a brain flash one day as I was looking at the board. Why not put a question on the side board each day for students to put their suggestions/guesses/favorites on?

The result has been a loaded-with-comments wall by 2:45 each school day. Some comments are 14-year-old attempts at the ridiculous. For example, one day I put the question “What is Mr. Wolfe’s favorite movie?” There were the usual superhero suggestions, but one student has anonymously written “Barbie’s Dream House”. In fact, it doesn’t seem to matter what the question-of-the-day is, one student always seems to put “Barbie’s Dream House” as an answer. It’s been the answer to what my favorite book is, my favorite TV show, my oldest child’s name, and where I’d like to go on vacation.

Some days the side board question asks for their suggestions on school issues. For instance, one day this week I asked what ides they had for a new exploratory class at the school. Some of the responses were fantastic, such as “Money Matters and Understanding”, “Home Economics” (A blast from the past there!), and “Basic First Aid”. Others were the usual suggestions that prompt snickers such as “Napping”, “Gaming in Class Without the Teacher Knowing It”, and “Doing Nothing”.

One day I asked them for one suggestion on what might be a change/addition in the school cafeteria. I knew I was opening up a can of worms, which a few of them think the food tastes like, but I put it out there. When it comes to cafeteria food and practices, eighth-graders have many suggestions, few that are positive. In reality, it’s a stigma that has stayed with school cafeterias for decades. I can still see the “hair-netted ladies” from my high school cafeteria plopping the lumps of food on our trays fifty years now in the rearview mirror. Present-day eighth-graders are no different in their disdain. Constructive comments such as “bring back the sandwich and salad bars” were few, but words in bold capital letters such as “Fire all the workers”, “Stop serving pizza on cardboard crusts!”, “Solve the Long Lines Problem!”, “Serve food that actually tastes good!”, and “Bring in Chick-Fil-A!!!’ dominated the board. Middle school students elevate their cynicism when it comes to food.

One day I asked them what they thought my parents almost named me. The answer is “Silas”, but the suggestions went from “Wilbur” to “Robert” to “Clyde” to “Benjamin”. But guess what? At some time, the phantom side wall writer had scribbled in blue marker “Barbie!”

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