DD 148

Prompt: I come into work one morning and the chalkboard in my classroom has a note on it that I didn’t write. I assume it’s from a student so, just to amuse myself, I respond to the note on the board with my own note. The next morning I come in and there’s…

… another note.  Johnson, a first-year English teacher, is with me.  He has come to borrow my stapler.  “I don’t know what happens to my staplers,” he says.  “They just disappear.”

“I got another note,” I say and point to the chalkboard.  “Yesterday a student left a note on my board that said, ‘What are you getting me ready for?’ and I wrote underneath, ‘Life.’”

We both stare for a moment at a new note my mystery student has left; the note says, “Please take my question seriously.’”

“Evidently,” I say to Johnson, ‘Life’ wasn’t a good enough response from me.”

“How did the student get into your room?  The room was locked when we came in.”

“Maybe he, or she, comes in after school when the maintenance staff is going room to room,” I say.

“Maybe that’s when my staplers disappear,” Johnson says.  “Maybe there is one group of students who leave notes and another group that steals staplers.”

“I don’t think students want your staplers.  I think you’re just carrying them with you when you photocopy and then setting them down without thinking.  There’s probably a trail of your staplers all around school.”

“The office secretary thinks I’m not responsible enough for office equipment.  She said that from now on she is going to attach them to my sleeves with those snaps kids used to have on their coat sleeves to keep from losing their mittens.  The secretary doesn’t take me any more more seriously than you did that student’s chalkboard note.”

“What’s more serious than telling a student that I’m getting her ready for life?”

“But we don’t get them ready for life.  They’re not going to spend their life figuring out what the green light in Gatsby means or whether or not to use the inverted-triangle paragraph to begin their essays.”

“I get them ready for more than that.”

“Then put that in a new note.”

“I will, in the meantime, you can borrow my stapler.  Just snap it to one of your sleeves.”


When Johnson has left the room, I stand staring for a few minutes at the chalkboard; then, finally, I walk to the board, pick up a piece of chalk, and write a koan I remember: One day Chao-chou fell down in the snow, and called out, ‘Help me up! Help me up!’ A monk came and lay down beside him. Chao-chou got up and went away.’”

Having written across the  top of the chalkboard, from one end to the other, I walk to the classroom window, open it, and toss the chalk outside.



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