birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

The Challenge

I think I was utterly unprepared for all that teaching high school in the “inner city” would entail. But that wouldn’t make me the first.

A story: I did a Master’s Degree in English Literature around 10 years after my B.A. in journalism. So I wasn’t inclined to spend 2 full years motoring through a teaching program at my alma mater, Cal State Northridge. Like many, I did the quickie-but-expensive 1-year route at National University for my credential, but to be fully approved as a teacher of English (though I had a graduate degree in it), I had to jump through a few hoops at CSUN’s English department so they could sign me off.

One of my tasks was to correct as though it were a student essay a sample composition a professor handed me. It may or may not have been a piece of actual student work. I just remember, as it described the ‘writer’s favorite place, it was stuffed with goofy cliches of Hollywood being the “Home of the Stars.” And, I’d been immersed in being at the L.A. Times and having all my pieces edited by fierce yet spot-on copy editors who made me re-write until I had a decent product. So I laid on the red ink.

After, as my professor read those corrections, he said “Being a little harsh, don’t you think?” And I responded “What do you mean? It’s just not very good.”

I think of that little interchange at least once a year because the reality is, the compositions I grade so rarely approach that quality level, even when the students are considered “honors.” I wish a few little cliches were the only things I had to worry about in student writing. Instead, there are usually MANY grammatical errors plus huge organizational problems within paragraphs and in the essay at large.

And the big frustration is, I can and do try to teach writing, but students need the incentive to work hard to improve. Some do. But too any just don’t practice enough to achieve any deep changes.. And that’s sad, not to mention frustrating.

In Sickness and In Health

One Bullet and a Gun