"Composition Notebooks"

By N.J. Wise

Note: names have been changed to protect the guilty.  

I handed out black composition notebooks the other day. I made a big deal about it. I made them hand me their old simple journals to trade for their sophisticated composition notebooks. "Do you accept responsibility for this journal?" They would look up at me directly in the eye and solemnly respond, "Yes." 
They each wrote their names with red permanent marker.

I told them they must take care of them. Don't bend the cover back all the way. Don't doodle all over the outside. Don't rip out pages.

Two minutes after the pledge of responsibility Ollie reports that Betsy drew pictures on her cover. Sure enough, she had attempted to write her name in cursive, which is not taught until third grade so it more or less looked like scribbly swirls. And she added a few hearts and flowers.

I pretended to be enraged. I took the book from her and also acted devastated and completely heartbroken that she had accepted responsibility then doodled on the cover.

Knowing she loved the journal and would try to get it back at any measure I told her she would have to work hard to get it back. Being the softy that I really am she got it back hours later.

However, another cunning young one internalized the whole episode. I imagine she cataloged it in her mind under the category, "Ways to Avoid Writing."

After Doodle Girl got her journal back, a sheepish girl with her shoulders slumped and head down dragged her feet over to me and mumbled, "I wrote bad things in my journal." I couldn't understand her so the girl who was standing next to her translated the message in tattle-tone. With dramatic resignation she lifted the journal and showed me the bad stuff. "I hate Timmy. Timmy is a brat." I loaded on the guilt and asked her what he should do to make Timmy and herself feel better, hoping she would say, "Say sorry." Instead she said, "I probably should just erase it." She erased it.

Then, she said, "You should probably take this journal from me since I was not responsible with it."

I call it...Creative Avoidance.

N.J. Wise is a second-grade teacher at an elementary school in east central Indiana .