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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

First-Year Revelations: English Comp

“Okay, ladies and gentlemen, listen up here.” The Freshman English teacher paced back and forth in front of us, while we noisily gathered our books and notebooks back in our bags. “By tomorrow… I said tomorrow, not the day after… I want to see 500 words written on this chair. This chair right here.” At last, all eyes focused in on the straight-backed wooden chair at the front of the room. Those who snickered received the stern, but wordless,  reproof the unsmiling face sent their way. Okay, so he isn’t kidding.

“Sir, how do we count the 500 words?” Now that glaring look, complete with seriously grooved brow, squinting little eyes, flared nostrils, and a straight line where his smile should have been was directed right at me. All motion in the room came to an abrupt halt, every eye looking at me. There was no doubt in my mind that the heat I felt rising from underneath my collar and spreading up to my hairline, registered a bright-red beacon of embarrassment. It was an honest question, though; I didn’t want to make a mistake.

“Excuse me, Miss Sojourner? Could I have heard you correctly? Are you asking me how to count to 500? I mean, does this look like Bonehead Math class to you?” The nervous giggles spreading around the room consoled me a little, because it felt like others might not know which words to count either. Maybe they were afraid to ask. “Five hundred words, tomorrow.” He stomped out of the classroom and was gone, but my question was still hanging in the air.

“Carlene, do you have any idea how to count the words in an English composition?” My roommate was not in my English class, but I figured it was probably a standard thing.

“Count them? Hmmm, my high school English teacher never had us count the words; we just had to write a certain number of pages. My prof here has not given us any writing assignments yet so I can’t really help you, sorry.”

“The thing is, Carlene, the only time I ever had to count what I wrote on a page of paper was in typing class. We were told not to count any of the articles in the sentences. The kids who turned in their papers with a word count that included those little words got in real trouble. The teacher said they were lazy and trying to cheat.  All  I wanted to know is if that’s the same in English class? What do you think?”

“If it was me, I’d do what your typing teacher said. He’s a teacher, right? He should know.” She sounded pretty confident. I wasn’t that sure. Did what a high school sophomore typing teacher say mean the same as a university freshman English teacher? But, what could I do? I’d better just concentrate on how to find 500 words to describe a wooden chair, without being boring.

Sitting at my typewriter, I began to write. (At the period of that last sentence, the Word Count = 500, if you’re wondering, dear Reader.)

****First-Year Revelations: English Comp, Conclusion… Coming Tomorrow

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