“All right, class, open up to page 445. Today we start my favorite unit, The Renaissance!”
Soon, every desk is covered by a fat textbook about ten pounds too heavy for a fifth grader. The teacher’s pets in the front row look at me expectantly, wanting nothing but my approval and ready to ace every test without ever retaining a single thing beyond the unit. The too-cool kids in the back are glaring at me like I’ve somehow injured them, and the kids in the middle are only paying attention because they know their parents will let them play Fortnite if they get good grades.
I don’t know how it is for every teacher—maybe I should, but I’ve only been at this for a year and a half—but it’s the kids in the back and middle I find most rewarding. The teacher’s pets are the ones that make you look good on standardized tests, but you can have a real impact on the lives of the ones who are naturally antagonistic when you finally break through. I should know, I was one of them, and I think it’s makes me good at my job, even if I only started teaching because a degree in history doesn’t exactly give you a silver spoon and my year abroad after college would have left me destitute if not for my parents.
One of the girls in the front row shoots her hand into the air. “Ms. Stump,” she says before I call on her, “wasn’t the Mona Lisa painted during the Renaissance?”
“The Renaissance stands for ‘Rebirth’, right?” a boy next to her adds, also without being called upon.
“Yes to both of you. Would you two like to teach the class today?”
When they give sideways glances to each other without saying no, I don’t know if I should be offended or impressed.
Of course, these aren’t the kids I care about. I mean, I care about them, but they aren’t why I’m here. Like I said before, they want approval, and all they need to get it is to ace a test. It’s the other kids I want to focus on, because without good teachers they’ll never make it through high school, and if you can’t make it through high school you end up like so many kids I knew growing up.
I turn to the rest of the class. “So, as I was saying, the Renaissance is my personal favorite portion of history. It’s why I became a teacher to begin with, and, while I know it won’t be everyone’s favorite, I hope you all grow to appreciate it by the time we’re done.”
A kid from the back raises his hand like he’s unsure if he knows how to do it.
“Yes, Drew?” I say, masking my surprise.
“Isn’t the Renaissance when Michelangelo made the Statue of David?”
I try to hide my delight. I always knew he just needed to find something he was passionate about. “Yes, good work Drew!”
“Isn’t that guy, like, naked?”
The class bursts out into laughter. I should have known better than to expect better from Drew, but it looks like he’s already fallen into my trap. The easiest way to break through to someone is to make it fun. For him, maybe that’s snickering at naked statues, since he obviously saw it before and made a point of learning what it was. For the rest, I’ve got a little ice-breaker I thought up too late to try last year.
“Yes, David is naked, thanks Drew.” The laughter dies down. “Now, people always remember the paintings and the sculptures, but what they forget is that the Renaissance was important even for how we speak. Does anyone know what a spoonerism is? They were first invented by the French Renaissance writer François Rabelais.” I leave off the part about how they were called something else for hundreds of years and almost explicitly sexual in nature until the Oxford don William Archibald Spooner popularized them in English.
Their blanks stares tell me they do not, in fact, know what I am talking about.
“A spoonerism is when you take the first sound of two words and flip them. My name is Luna Stump, so a spoonerism of my name is Stuna Lump.”
Not a single giggle. I really hoped I’d get them with ‘Lump’. Calling myself ‘Lump’? That’s funny, right? Oh my gosh, do I not know what kids like anymore? Am I that old?
There’s dread setting in, and for a moment I question if I should stop right here or power through.
I power through.
“So, we all have spoonerisms of our names, and how about we call that spoonerism our superhero alter ego.” Shoot, do kids still like superheroes? “I’m going to call on you one-by-one, and you get to tell everyone your spoonerism and your superpower.”
The class is silent. Turns out Lump was the best way to quiet down a class of ten-year-olds.
I pull out my student list. Luckily, there are no ‘A’ last names, since vowels are hardest to work with, but my confidence is still shot.
“John, you get less time than everyone else,” I say, speaking to a boy in the second row.
He hesitates for a second, his voice wavering like he doesn’t quite understand what he’s doing. “My spoonerism is… Bohn Jaker? And my superpower is flying, so I can dunk on my dad when we’re playing in our backyard.”
No laughter, and nervous beads of sweat are forming on the backs of my knees.
“Awesome, thanks Bohn,” I say, hoping to get a snicker or two that never come. I turn to the next boy, a kid named Liam in the middle-to-back of the class. “Liam, you’re up.”
“Biam Lell,” the kid says with confidence that at least lets me know he understands better than John, “and my superpower is turning invisible, so I can spy on you all and you never know I’m here.”
Yiiiiiikes, this is not going well.
Before anyone can comment, or perhaps to avoid having to consider just what that kind of choice means for the rest of his life, I fly onto the next one, the girl in the front row who wants nothing but approval.
“Okay Paulette, you’re next.”
She stares at me, tears in her eyes. It hits me just before it hits the rest of the class.
“Caulette Pooper. My superpower is also turning invisible, so I can disappear from this classroom.”
They weren’t laughing before, but they’re sure laughing now. I should have just worked at a museum.
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