She Won't Cooperate

or I Want to Be the Girl With the Most Cake

Renee Smith

Renee Smith
Wilmington, North Carolina,
July 20
Your Highness
Single mom of 2 grown daughters, writer; lover of sushi, memoirs, David Sedaris, Green Day, Aimee Mann, Bill Hicks, and Stephen Colbert. A lifelong native of Houston, I made a cross country move to Hollywood East beginning Act 2 of my life.I am currently at work on a screenplay and two books of essays. I have written a number of produced plays. I'm a Grad School student at UNCW fulfilling my lifelong dream of advanced degrees and writing full-time. I am also a recently laid off high school teacher , but felt as Sylvia Plath did, that "teaching is dying a slow death in front of an audience." The education system is broken and I can't save it by being in it--but perhaps my words can help.


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NOVEMBER 23, 2009 10:16PM

Miss Darling Grades Essays

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This morning Miss Darling would like to share  actual excerpts from her students' work. Miss Darling teaches 9th grade English, or rather English I. This particular assignment was to write a characterization essay (describe the character traits and motivation) of one of the two main characters in the widely anthologized James Hurst short story The Scarlet Ibis. In the actual story, the narrator describes his childhood on a farm during World War I with his little brother William Armstrong, aka Doodle. Doodle was born weak and defying all odds, the narrator, known as Brother,  taught him to walk--not because Brother was so much compassionate as he was embarrassed by having an invalid brother. In the end, Doodle was pushed too hard and died while calling out to Brother for help, alone on a dirt road in a thunder storm,  at 5 years old.  

Miss Darling wrote a brilliantly scaffolded lesson plan building up to a final formal assignment, the essay. All in all, over a week of class time was spent preparing beginning with reading the story, listening to the story, class discussion, examination of context clues and contextual evidence to examine the qualities of characterization.  On the due date, Miss Darling excitedly gathered the documents from her myriad of students, packed them up, took them home, cozied up on the sofa and began to read. Some excerpts follow:

"Doodle was born early and had a weak heart the doctor said he couldn't get too excited teird or any thing of that state of matter. he was born crippled and couldn't walk his brother had to carry him or put him on hte go-karts every were they want or if they were playing because he coudn't walk.He was short and young kind of lazy at the time trying not to learn how to walk fast but that could kill him because he has a weak heart."


"Brother grew up on a plantation. He was older then doodle by 5 or 6 years old. His family was not that rich, because this summer sucked. Brother was many different things loving, embarrassed and harsh."


"Dood life.... Doodle is a little boy who was born never to walk". he had a brother who wanted to kill him" at first. When he seen Doodle smile he started to jump up and down calling Mom Dad he smiled." After a few years he got tired of having brother who could not walk". I would to.  One day at OLD WOMAN SWAMP he pulled his brother up. "


"doodle is a young boy who almost passed by the age of birth."


"This is my character Doodle he is a boy he was born in New York and now lives in Texas. Doodle was Five years old his hobbis were holding his breath, running, jumping and climbing but he couldn't walk. She said he would live because he was born in a caul and cauls were made from jesus night gown. Hes a rational and introvert person and he is depressed. "

"He was a boy to admire, was great to have read about him, and going through much, he did try. I was amazed at his determination, but also wintessed his failures when I read the scarlet ibis. Doodle wasn't the kind you would find anywhere, but if you did, things would be different."

"Hey, do you know that boy names James Hurst? No, why? You don't, I don't believe you. Well let me tell you about him. " 

"Doodle was born in a small town that is could Deggaso. He wasn't bron like other kids. He was born mently handycape. He can't walk of do thing like other people or kids. Doodle had a brother, and his brother is so mean to his brother Doodle. "

" 'Your selfish, prode of yourself and uncaring to your little, speacialy chalennged brother.' This are the exact words I wanted to tell Doodles brother, James Hurst. At the begging of the story that's what I thought. He was mean to his Doddle every time he could."

"..... by the name of The Scarlet Ivis."

"Doodle was always looking for something to do. Even though he wasn't kapable of doing what any other kid could do. Doodle was paralyzed. His family thought he wasn't going to survive, even the doctors thought the same. When doodle was born he was so tiny, he seemed all head with his tiny body. His hair was red, and his body shriveld like an old mans. As he grew doctors would say he wouldn't live long because he had a weak heart. Doodle wasn't going to be stoped."

"Doodle was the type of brother you wouldn't expect to have. Doodle was an invalid child, a person who disabled, he wasn't like the other children. His family thought he wasn't going to live but he survived his birth. He was born with a disfunctional body."He seemed to be all head with a tiny body. . .", was the way his family described him."

"My brother Doodle, He was not like your average brother or baby he was a small and shriveded little child and sometimes wiered in some situations. He also didn't learn how to walk until he was five years of age as you know his shows a sign of lazyness.  Doodle was always a child who gave up on things in life or having to do in life, me on the other hand sometimes it could be harsh and mean to Doodle and even embarassed by him. "

"Doodle was a strange little kid, when he was born he look all head with no body."

"The Life of Dooble--Well am start by telling you about Dooble. Well Dooble is part of a family of four. He was born with a problem he was to weak to do anything. He was born in a cotton field. Five o'clock in a summer day almost autumn dooble was born. All hes family thought Dooble was not going to survive. They told his older brother to not gite to happy. Dooble live. In his first year he talk alot that nobody could stand him. Hes older brother was to enberest of hes brother."

"This is a very interesting story of a lil boy that has a family who comepletly gave up on the last hope that they had which is him serving."

"Well my character is Doodle. He is a brother and a son in the story "The Scarlet Ibis."When he was born, he had a cual. "He would live because he was born in a cual." In his appearance he has sensible skin. Brother motivated Doodle to walk by picturing him an image."

"Doodle was a boy who doctors said that he wouldn't last long. Back then, there was a lot of diease, so kids often died. His parents knew that he wouldn't last long. When Doodle was born, he was parallized. "

"doodle was born with an illness and was born on the country side. He has a mother, father, and a brother who is really mean with him. He was so happy when he learned how to walk and became an out going person he loved to be outside but he became kind of depressed when hes brother James started giving him high expectations"

Miss Darling's favorite one is this one, neatly typed and titled, "Though Loving, But Caring"--

Not everyone in the family is negatively or not loves. Deep inside their heart theirs that loves feeling. This by came from a farm land during the World War II. Experience the life of nature "I would gather Wild Flowers, Wild Violets, Honey Suckle, Yellow Jasmines, Snake Flowers, and Water Lilies, and with wire grasses we'd weave them into necklaces and crowns" said a loving six year old child. This child has experience a long, little loving care to a little brother named Armstrong, but also know as Doodle. That passes away in body, but by heart still living in the "Scarlet of Ibis". 

James a little six year old boy living his life on a farm land with his siblings. Waiting for another sibling on the way to join the family tree. A little seed inside his mother know as a little brother for him. .....

..........That was a sign that Doodle was no longer with us. Then again Doodles spirit will always be in James heart and in love he showed to his little Brother even do very in the inside their was that caring of a Big Brother. He realized that just because he was small and with a weak health of heart, Doodle still had that strong heart of love. 

How was Miss Darling to grade these? The rubric was useless. How can a grade be given on inclusion of the seven qualities of characterization when the student couldn't spell (even with spellcheck), use a period, copy the name of the story (The Scarlet of Ibis, The Scarlet Ivis) or  capitalize a proper noun (dooble, doodle)? This is not to mention that her school did not allow 0's to be given on an assignment--especially a major grade assignment such as this one which could result in failure, so the third of students who did nothing at all would receive a 50, even if the paper was never turned in. Using a rubric, these completed  essays would score less than that. 

Miss Darling finally decided the only way to determine the grade was the old  Johnny Carson psychic trick--she held the paper to her forehead and announced a grade.  "Ah, I see a B..." and then a B appeared in the grade book, and so it was.






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Just think, in three short years they'll graduate from high school whereas they'll attend college, or join the work force, or the military, and become productive citizens. By then, they can buy a copy of "Going Rogue." Thanks for the wonderful insight into the mind of 9th graders and their versions of characters. Great job.
This is a remedial English class, yes? Or perhaps English as a second language? If not, I don't want to know.
While Miss Darling does have some Special Ed kids and a couple of ESL ones, these samples came straight out of Regulars. These are students who do not require the additional remedial English class that some students are given.
Your situation sounds very similar to my own first couple years of teaching. Your frustration is almost painful for me to read it's so familiar. That being said, you really do need to be careful about using this public forum. Posting your students work, especially when it's not shown in a positive light, can lead to nothing productive. It can lead to a lawsuit student from every single one of your students, unless you have had them all sign media release forms.

Also, at some point, you will have to decide if you are going to be the type of teacher who becomes exasperated for what her students should know but don't, and who actually teaches it to them. Or, if you need to find another profession.

These students have had enough teachers become defeated by their lack of academic knowledge already. If you stay in the profession and don't do anything about it, you're simply becoming a part of the problem.
Excuse my two typos. I was interrupted halfway through the post. I wish you and your students all the best.
I wasn't trying to belittle my students or to pass the buck. The point is that I am a dedicated educator... but I cannot educate children with this huge a deficit when I am given strict instruction to teach only material relevant to the state standardized test. Students will not stop coming to 9th grade ill-prepared if they are not given the skills earlier--and again, they are ill-prepared because of state testing. If people do not realize how horrible the educational state is in our public school system, change will never be made.

I would love nothing more than to teach my students what they are missing. . . . . . this post was not to whine about what my students do not know, but to get the word out that change has to happen.

Curriculum does not include more than skills at this point....

Students lacking in skills simply get passed on. And on. And on.
I couldn't agree more. Have you ever considered going above your principal to point this out. Everything you said is a part of the current education discussion, and schools that are succeeding are taking the approach you seem to want to. I once went to my principal's boss to get a much-needed reading program at our school. I ended up getting a poor eval from her that year, but it was worth it.

Good luck to you.