Classroom Follies

Classroom, JMN, photo, 2009. Copyright James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.

Classroom. JMN, photo.

In my high school Spanish classes I tried to prepare my students to be aware of stressed syllables. They knew about haiku — more than I did — from their English teachers. They knew of its 5-7-5 syllable count. I told them that Spanish verse also counted syllables. English poetry counts stresses, not syllables, I told them. Then I would ease into the stress rules of Spanish words, leading to when and why accent marks were written.

All this transpired over considerable time, alternating with fruitless efforts to impart rudimentary “conversation skills” to children who left Spanish behind each day as soon as the bell rang. To keep my spirits up I would concoct ruses that intersected deviously with my own interests. Here’s one:

Let’s invent an English version of haiku that includes a pattern of stresses, which is the English way! We’ll think up an arbitrary pattern and create a template for it. Then we’ll see if we can write verses conforming to the pattern.

Here’s a template — let’s call it the “malibu.”
Dewdrop panjandrum vavavavoom

Here are some malibus:
Mishaps befall us. What can you do?
Darling, move over. Give me some room!
Flooding predicted. Run for the hills!
Syndrome avoidance — not what we need.
Little by little, take what you can.
Mortar bombardment going kaboom.
Mildew is fatal — keep it away!

Here’s another template — shall we call it the “kazoo”?
Eschew rudderless befuddlement

Here’s a kazoo:
Beware simpering ambassadors.

Now, students, pair up with a classmate for the last twenty minutes and have fun making up your own malibus and kazoos. On Monday bring to class an original template of your own with some examples for extra credit!

It would be nice to report that this scheme was wildly successful, but it wasn’t. I had more fun than the students did. I never achieved the success in teaching that Robin Williams achieved in “Dead Poets Society” or Edward James Olmos in “Stand and Deliver.” Life didn’t imitate art — drat the luck.

[Copyright (c) 2018 James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.]

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day, and watch Netflix and Prime Video for entertainment. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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