• Absurdist Teaching 101

    by Jesse Loren

    Life can be unexpected. While some parents wait nine months for a baby, for others it can take years. Then there is instant labor, weeks early, and -POW – a baby is born. It’s hard to be prepared for life’s uncertainties. Wouldn’t it be great if teachers could prepare students for life’s uncertainties as part of state academic standards?

    With increased class size it seems the perfect climate to introduce new expectations that offer convenience for the exam-weary teacher. The new standard should say: Prepare students for ambiguities in the text and unexpected outcomes in life.

    Just think: Grading 200 high school essays doesn’t have to be a chore. Instead, lay out the papers in five neat stacks. Shuffle the stacks the number of times that is equal to the number of letters in your last name. Cut the stacks the number of times that is equal to the number of times you have been married or thought about marrying George Clooney. Take a ten minute break and check your Facebook. Resume grading by employing one of two methods.

    Method 1: Open a newspaper and count how many As, Bs, Cs, Ds and Fs you come across on the first page. Match the letters by assigning the highest number to the largest pile. Enter the grade into your grade book and drink wine. Think about it: you are doing them a favor. It’s like moisturizing your hands while doing the dishes.

    Absurdist teaching would get high school students integrated into the real world. They would have more patience at the DMV. They would better understand why they will not get into college. They would certainly be more prepared for unemployment.

    I tried my own version of this today on my sixth period class. Aside from the fact that it was 38 degrees and raining, I still think it was a good idea. Four honors English kids were in my class before school. I told them, “Let it be known that no student will enter my class without their essays assembled in chronological order before they come into class today.” I usually do not speak in decrees, but one must attempt colonial grandeur if one wants to accomplish the absurd. Then I wrote a note to myself on the whiteboard, “Get Paperclips.” When class came around the weather was horrid. Leif Ericsson had less rain squall on this trip to the New World. Sure enough, almost forty kids lined up outside my door, shivering, curled toward center to protect themselves, wide-eyed, determined, with organized papers in open backpacks.

    “Do you have your papers?” I asked, offering a paperclip to all who entered.
    “Amen,” or “Yes,” they answered, gleefully.

    Even an absurdist finds it hard to be evil. Those damn kids knew I had raised the bar to entering class and all but one was ready. I shake my fist at their youthful determination! Damn them! I imagine next time I will need a Gestapo to help enforce the absurdity.

    Method 2: Assign a letter value to five possible outcomes of your dice. Roll the dice for each test and mark the test with the large letter across the top of the page in red ink! Enter the grade in your grade book without explanation.

    Imagine the parent phone calls! Imagine the EMAILS!

    My advice is to explain to parents that if the education budget is going to be gutted like a medieval heretic, than you must also embrace teaching methods that are analogous to the gutting methods employed by Congress. Besides, you are just preparing them for the reality of their future.

    • Love your thinking. I love learning to be absurd and sometimes it truly makes sense (well maybe only to me). I think it thinking outside the box and preparing for the absurd to happen daily truly helps your brain to function in the world.Thanks for lots of lessons in your writing today.

      • Hank Fradella

      • February 23, 2011 at 10:01 am
      • Reply

      Bravo, Jesse!

      • David Lacy

      • February 23, 2011 at 7:44 pm
      • Reply

      I love your writing in general, but I’m not going to lie: this was my favorite: Sharp, acerbic, and timely!

      • Jesse

      • February 23, 2011 at 8:17 pm
      • Reply

      It was fun to write. I hope I don’t get parent complaints. I might also make a blanket comment to all written work then put it through a cut up engine. That could be fun. J

    • Jesse,
      Good read. I always expect David or Debra to grade my columns and send them back to rewrite. I was always pretty smart, especially during my third year in 3rd grade. I call it my 3/3 year.

    • It’s like moisturizing your hands while doing dishes. HA! You are not only hilarious, but making excellent points, Jesse. Thanks!

      • Kathleen

      • February 25, 2011 at 12:47 pm
      • Reply

      Love your thinking and writing ‘outside the box’.
      Keep them on edge thinking and rewarding yourself to keep fresh as a teacher also.
      This coming from a K~teacher of 25 years.
      I loved going beyond what was expected and actually the kids and parents admired it, got our Mojo working.
      Oh yes there will always be a few that just can’t or won’t adjust.
      Prepared them for the real word~ sad part is that all these years later I have so many of those same kids emailing me along with their parents saying wow wish you could have been our teacher all 12 years of school. Brava Jesse

      • Norbie Kumagai

      • February 26, 2011 at 1:37 pm
      • Reply

      Hello Jesse: How do you survive teaching “almost 40 high school students” English comp on a daily basis and maintain your sanity?? Whatever happened to “class size reduction”?? Not to mention grading 200 essays on an ongoing basis?? You’re My Hero!!!

      • Jesse

      • February 26, 2011 at 9:01 pm
      • Reply

      I’ve been out of town. How is the peasant revolt going in Wisconsin? Has Walker been named Thane of Glamis and Cawdor yet? J

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