Photo: AZRainman, Flickr Creative Commons
I was prepping my students yesterday for a practice writing test. I'd been spending a part of each block this week talking about writing persuasively, and that day, the day before the test, we were looking at sample essays that the state had released. These were actual essays submitted for the graduation test and they were paired with their scores and commentary. The names of the schools were removed, of course.
There's one essay, a long paragraph really, that I've shown every class for two years now at this point in the semester. It's the worst paper in the collection. There is no development of ideas, the paragraph gradually wanders further and further from the topic until finally it just stops. There's a distinct lack of understanding of singular verbs. This is the paper I show to raise my students' spirits. Hey, look! I say. None of you suck quite this bad. No matter how much you struggle on the test, you'll always know that you weren't the worst ever. It's good that they see this and tell me how it could be improved before we move on to the better essays later in the list.
Except this time a sentence near the end caught my attention. I knew it was there, but this time it struck me differently than it had before. In the middle of a rambling string of complaints about school rules, the writer basically throws in something along the lines of "we all like to have food."
Fuck. This is a paper from a kid who probably only ate at school, one of those lousy students who never misses a day and never drops out, the type that teachers struggle to understand why they bother showing up. I've taught those kids. I still teach those kids.
I don't know if I can use that paper as an example anymore. I don't need to be reminded that there's nothing I can really do for some of my kids.