An Interesting Writing Assignment

This is from the book Teacher Man and is about high school English teaching, but it offers an interesting perspective and reminds us to take advantage of those teachable moments.

I was in my third year of teaching creative writing at Ralph McKee Vocational School in Staten Island, New York, when one of my students, 16-year-old Mikey, gave me a note from his mother. It explained his absence from class the day before:
“Dear Mr. McCort, Mikey’s grandmother who is eighty years of age fell down the stairs from too much coffee and I kept Mikey at home to take care of her and his baby sister so I could go to my job at the ferry terminal. Please excuse Mikey and he’ll do his best in the future. P.S. His grandmother is ok.”
I had seen Mikey writing the note at his desk, using his left hand to disguise his handwriting. I said nothing. Most parental-excuse notes I received back in those days were penned by my students. They’d been forging excuse notes since they learned to write, and if I were to confront each forger I’d be busy 24 hours a day.

I threw Mikey’s note into a desk drawer along with dozens of other notes. While my classes took a test, I decided to read all the notes I’d only glanced at before. I made two piles, one for the genuine ones written by mothers, the other for forgeries. The second was the larger pile, with writing that ranged from imaginative to lunatic.

I was having an epiphany.

Isn’t it remarkable, I thought, how the students whined and said it was hard putting 200 words together on any subject? But when they forged excuse notes, they were brilliant. The notes I had could be turned into an anthology of Great American Excuses. They were samples of talent never mentioned in song, story or study.

Read more at Reader’s Digest.

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