I OFTEN TELL PEOPLE . . .
I often tell people to sit down and shut the hell up.
I often tell people that the more they behave like adults, the more I can treat them like adults.
I often tell people to put away their lip gloss, eyeshadow, lotion, perfume, body spray, gum, chips, candy, bacon-and-egg sandwiches, sunflower seeds, mirrors, homework for the next class, and cell phones.
I often tell people that I am not an idiot, and they can put their cell phones away for real now.
I often tell people to indent their paragraphs.
I often tell people to double space.
I often tell people that for god’s sake, they should get in the habit of using MLA format.
I often tell people to begin their essays with a hook, possibly consisting of an interesting question or idea related to their topic of choice.
“Have you ever wondered what the word ‘society’ means?”
“Have you ever wondered what the similarities and differences are between Huck Finn and Stanley Kowalski?”
“Have you ever wondered how regional geological differences affected the economic conditions that led to the Civil War?”
No, I often tell people. I have never in my life wondered any of those things.
I often tell people that things are ironic.
“It is ironic that Oedipus vows to hunt down the murderer—because he does not know that the murderer is himself.”
“It is ironic that Lady Macbeth asks the spirits to make her like a man, since she would have been played by a man in Elizabethan times.”
“It is ironic that I am the only one in this room who seems concerned about your upcoming test, considering that I am also the only one who does not have to take it.”
I often tell people that they are using the word “ironic” incorrectly.
“It is not ironic that you got wet on your way to school. It is raining.”
I often tell people things that are not, strictly speaking, true.
“You are really going to regret missing out on the lesson about quotation marks.”
“If you don’t learn how to write a good essay, the New York City Department of Education will not let you graduate.”
“No we are not sitting around the teachers room talking about you. We have better things to do than that.”
“Of course I agree with the principal. I always agree with the principal.”
I often tell people the truth, but tactfully.
“Your daughter has a lot of potential, but it’s important for her to work on her social skills.”
“This essay has some good ideas, but you should be careful to spell the title of the book the same way every time you mention it.”
Sometimes I tell people the truth, not tactfully at all.
I often tell people that if they lean back in their chairs far enough and often enough, they will almost certainly fall, and I often tell people that I do not want to have to explain to the dean or to their parents that their daughter cracked her head open in English class because she was leaning back in her chair, because damn, that is stupid.
I often tell people things more than once.
I often tell people things more than once.
I often tell people that I’m pretty sure they have no idea what I just said, even though I know I said it more than once.
Sometimes people tell me that I’m annoying.
Sometimes people tell me that I’m boring.
Sometimes people tell me that I’m mean.
Sometimes people tell me that I’m too nice.
Sometimes people tell me that they definitely did turn in their assignment, it’s just that my email must not be working very well, but maybe if I give it a few days the email will magically show up.
Sometimes people tell me that I’m a saint
But that I get too much vacation.
Sometimes people tell me that they could never, ever do my job, let alone do it
But people who do it badly should be punished.
Sometimes people tell me about their own teachers
Who are usually heroes or villains in their stories.
I often tell people I feel like neither.
I often tell people to conclude their essays by restating the main idea, and giving it a new spin, maybe by making a critical statement or a new connection.
“In the end, Huck Finn and Stanley are both characters in American Literature.”
“Ultimately, everyone is a tragic hero in his or her own way.”
“Society is still important today.”
I often tell people that a conclusion is the hardest part of the essay to write.
Copyright © 2019 by Emily Zdryko
EMILY ZDYRKO is an English teacher at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music, Art, and the Performing Arts. In her spare time she acquires shoes and degrees in English. A New York City native, she lives on the Upper West Side with Calypso, her semi-feral immigrant cat.