The Girls: Final Exam Paper Grading or Beware Of What You Wish For

I’ve written this piece in 2007, based on a recording I made during a work-in-progress rehearsal for a show called Fifty Sons and Daughters that gathers my college teaching experiences in New Jersey.

[Teacher sits in a circle of light.]

Hello, hello. Come closer please, don’t be shy, come by the brim of my circle of light, sit down on the floor, be kids again, it’s story time. Come on, don’t be resentful. I’m playing God now, and you are powerless, that’s how it feels when I grade these final exam essays.
[She takes out examination blue books.]
So, many of you might remember these dreaded college exam blue books. Well, as I’ve promised you now I’m going to talk about the girls in my English Composition 101. Well, the girls come in all shapes and degrees of intelligence. When I started to teach this class, there was only one guy and the rest of the class were girls. Some quiet, attentive, some nasty, rude. I prayed, “I will teach them how wonderful writing is, and I hope they’ll learn to trust writing, trust me at least, and they’ll express themselves thru writing, and we’ll be one happy family of writers, sharing the excitement.” Well, as they say, beware of what you wish for.
But let’s proceed. This is Nanique. Nanique is a Jamaican from England and now ended up in New Jersey. God knows what she’s been thru. Listen, this is Nanique in the computer lab, answering a comprehension quiz regarding the black man in public space, about this guy who whistles Vivaldi when he walks about his neighborhood at night, so that his cowbell song lets scared white women know he is not dangerous. These quizzes are designed such that they can answer them without doing their reading.
So here is Nanique [Imitates a concentrated Nanique.] in the computer lab the day she came with a Mohawk. I’ve never seen such a Mohawk. The hair was plaited in symmetric circling designs spirals and coils and in the middle she had the Mohawk standing up like a crest, more like an egret head—she wants to go to what is that contest, American Idol, something, or American Model, I wouldn’t laugh it away, because Nanique is slim and tall, and her writing is sparse, elegant. The first essay she wrote was fantastic, about how she learned how to ride her bike.—So here she is in the computer lab [Imitates a tense Nanique] and here is me, touching her gently on the shoulder wanting to say that, “I’d love to take a picture of you. I love your hairdo!” but here is Nanique. [Imitates Nanique startling jumpy scared.]
I don’t know what she’s been thru! I’m jumpy like her. When I wash dishes in the kitchen my son has to let me know from his room, “Mom, I’m coming to the kitchen, it’s me, not the robbers!” Otherwise I drop plates, splash the soaps suds on the walls.
Anyway, I was eager to read her essay, but when I opened the copybook, well, here we go [Reads] “True Life: My Husband Is Incarcerated. [Cringes.] Your being charged with involuntary man slaughter. How do you plead? Guilty or not guilty? These are the words my “husband” will be hearing sooner or later.” Yep. So for the first four pages she gives us a description of her life before the guy, how she was with someone else, though from start she was thrilled with his light skin and long dreads. He told her, where is it now, she’s funny how she writes the way he talks, ghetto, where is it?! [Shuffles thru her papers] Well, I can’t find it but it was something the guy says, “I can give you what your man will never be able to give you. And I’m gonna treat you nice, like you deserve.” But Nanique was adamant about her man, so all they did was talking on the phone every day. Finally they got together and they were officially wifey and hubby. But then Nanique went to college and somehow the daily calls fizzled to only once a week and then, bam! The news! The guy beat to death another drug dealer and now he is incarcerated. Nanique feels all guilty and enamored again. Every day a letter comes from prison. She hears his voice as she reads his words, “I love you with all my heart and soul, and never forget it.” But what about your dreams, Nanique? Go to the American Idol! Run, run, run, that’s why I gave you A++++! Don’t you forget it!
Well, next is Myrna Mansour. She is curly, almond eyes, black eyes. She is from Lebanon, or Egypt. I mix them up, but she’s cool with it. She badly wants an A+ because she had an A in all the other classes, though I told her, “Myrna! B in English is good. Half of my class will fail!” “Oh, but my mom will say, ‘What happened?!’” “Well, tell her.” “Oh, professor!”
Here goes Myrna: she tells me the story of how—I gave them options to write about things that interest me. Like, “What should we do about the large people who take up two seats in the subway? Is it fair for me to stand up while they sprawl on two seats? They didn’t pay for two seats.” This topic was not popular with the students. So I asked them to “Write a personal narrative about the enchanting stories your parents like to tell you/your relatives/etc. about your growing up. Make sure you include both the charming/cute ones and the dreadful/embarrassing ones.” So Myrna went for that one. Her mother is constantly videotaping her ever since she was born. Which is wonderful but whenever Myrna brings someone new at the house, here is mom playing the videotape, “‘Here is Myrna shitting in her pampers, isn’t she cute?’ ‘Here is Myrna eating sloppily.’ ‘Oh, and this one, when she puked. Isn’t she adorable?’ I dread what she’ll do at my wedding. Play all my embarrassing moments!”
Then she wrote about the state of her virginity. You’d think this is so lovely, the student confides in her teacher. Yeah, but Myrna told me stories about her virginity four times already! It’s a big thing with her, virginity. There was a passage I can’t find. It seems I can’t find anything in these copybooks. It’s their handwriting. I know I read more from the guys’ writing, but the girls’ writing is hard on my eyes… Anyway, she has great fun watching the guy having a hard-on and she saying “No, I’m a virgin.” B, Myrna, B.
Cristina Ramos! Well, Christina Ramos is a bore, but such a diligent bore! She wrote me in her journal entries that her ambition is to write for a fashion magazine, Vogue or Bazaar, and the scary thing is that she might do it! She is so diligent. Well, here she writes about global warming. I showed them Al Gore’s film and here is the result: “The Lungs of the Earth.” Oh, dear, I can’t read this… She didn’t quite understand the global warming issue with the CO2 and the hothouse effect. But suffice to say that when you go to a picnic, watch out and put out your fire, sprinkle dirt on it so that the forest doesn’t catch fire, otherwise the fire will reach your neighborhood and soon the entire California will be burning down because of you! There you go, “If you want to know more about forest fires go to or read Smoky Bear pamphlets.” A. How do I deal with diligent bores? I give them As.
Now here comes my sweetheart Clara Gonzales! Oh, she writes such moving journal entries. One was about this girl she talked to, a fifteen year old, who was boasting she slept with 22 guys. Clara found that gross and nasty, and she took the girl to the doctor and the girl had HIV. She went to her parents with the girl and the parents cried. A fifteen year old.
Or she muses about loving two people at the same time, because it happened to her once, and now a man says he loves her and another girl too. She understands him.
But now, when I opened the blue book. “In Love With a Married Man!” Oh, Clara! And I was hoping you would be my daughter-in-law! So Clara was an intern at a casino and she liked her boss, but only after she was not working there anymore she realized she thinks a lot about him. And they met a few times, like friends, and Clara the Temptress kissed him and she describes how she touched his face with her fingers and touched his lips and kissed him and the guy was so confused and then the next time again she kissed him and he responded passionately. Now Clara is “the other woman.” She never thought she’d be “the other woman,” but she is now. Clara, don’t bring pain to another woman… That’s it. Kissing him on the lips. Get out of here! [She freezes. Thinks hard. Drops the paper onto the graded pile on the floor while saying.] B.
Tanisha Boyd. Well, Tanisha Boyd is playing me. She missed a lot of classes and though I sent her every third week a progress note saying she’d be failing the class, she didn’t fully realize it was really going to happen, until we conferenced. I told her I couldn’t let her have any make-up work unless she had a good enough reason for having missed my class. She said she had a weird one. Well? She was sick in the mornings, she said smiling amused, as if to see if it flied, and so she couldn’t come to class, until she found out she was pregnant. So sympathetic me, I said, “Alright, I’ll give you an incomplete. One more week. If not, then you get your F.”
She wrote about how it will be if she’ll be rich for a month—I gave them options to write about how it would be if for a month the rich should switch with the poor, the ugly with the beautiful, men with women, children with grownups, teenagers with their grandparents. She wrote she’d be throwing parties. Her birthday would be fabulous. In a club with five floors and gourmet food and various music and everybody in a limo, and many gifts and gift bags and expensive gowns and hairdos and jewelry, and she’d put some money in her account and some in new accounts for her unborn children. Then for her mom’s birthday she’d buy a ticket to a Pacific island resort where she’d be pampered. Only she’d have to go alone there.
Why? Why can’t your mom have a native gigolo?! B.
This is Me’Lisa Holmes. Me’Lisa sits in the back of the room. Quiet and intelligent. Watchful. She is thin and essential. She missed classes but when I told her she could make up for her work, next day she brought everything in. She wrote journal entries all night long. Like John, another student, who wrote 40 journal entries in one night. By entry #32 he had a different handwriting, probably he roped in his roommate or girlfriend. I laughed so much about it. Up to there it was reclining to the right, now it turned into print and reclined to the left. Probably his girlfriend he talks so much about, how she gets mad out of nothing, pitched in. I asked him about it, but he didn’t say a word. It’s part of the teaching game.
Me’Lisa is an orphan. She wrote in her first essay how she went with her mom to buy summer outfits and her mom bought herself a short skirt and then they ate ice cream together and it was so unbearable hot as they walked home from the bus stop that her mom modeled the sexy skirt for Me’Lisa and Me’Lisa was okay with it, since her mom looked very young even if she was 30. And then her mom went to rest in her bedroom, and Me’Lisa watched TV, until her sister came crying. The ambulance showed up. Then next day she went to the hospital only to see her mom dead. She hoped it was not true. Her mom was just a bit ill, please.
Now Me’Lisa takes care of her many siblings and grandma. She wrote about her cousins in the final exam. Lots of baby cousins. All cute and all cursing. What kind of family is that?! A.
Oh, Melissa Aviles. As soon as I told Melissa she would get an A in my class she stopped coming to class. Disappointing. Melissa wrote about dating young, because I gave them the option, “Compare/contrast female versus male dating/marrying younger, older, same age. Bring in personal examples.” I’m preoccupied by the topic, dating young.
She wrote about how she was so bothered that her cousin dated a guy two years younger than her, because people say you only date younger if you are not cool enough to get men your age or older. And Melissa teased her cousin all the time, until she herself started to date a younger guy. She realized she was jealous of her cousin, because her guy treated her so much nicer than Carlos, the guy she was dating then, her daughter’s father. She couldn’t work things out with Carlos. He was too jealous. But he is a good father. Now Melissa is delighted with how nicely her new boyfriend is treating her and he enjoys playing with her daughter. It counts. B.
And the last one for today, Jessica Kutcher. Jessica is the only Caucasian in that class. Oh, no, Anna Magriplis is white too. Well, Jessica is the only one from Eastern Europe like me. So because of that I can’t give her slack. She almost got herself into a pickle. She’d not come to class. When I asked her to write about why she was not doing her reading, she said she was a fashion major and English was not necessary for her career. She was not going to be an English teacher, nudge-nudge! Well, young lady, arrogance won’t take you very far. And she was busy at Mandee’s anyway. After our conference she wrote me in one of the make up works that she lived with her father and grandpa. She missed her mother, whom she remarried but made sure they met every week. Until four years ago when she stopped calling her, or returning her calls. Jessica was heart broken. Only a year ago her mother called her and told her that she did this for the best. She was diagnosed with cancer and thought that if she disappeared from Jessica’s life, it wouldn’t be painful for her. And they were friends again. But then her mother moved to Florida and never called her again.
Oh, Jessica. I wish I knew this before. Why don’t you come and talk to me, Jessica?
Too late now.
Her final paper: “How To Lose A Guy In Four Dates.” Skip, skip, here she is on date two, they went to a restaurant on date one. Then came date number two. “I made him dinner, every girl knows the way to a mans heart is through his stomach. Now I kind of wish the food didn’t turn out so good because I really think the balsamic pork chop salad went to his head. Through out the whole meal he was making sounds like ‘yum’ and ‘mmmm’, the whole time I was thinking, ‘can’t you shut up and just eat!’”
Then she has some adventures at the movie theater where the guy doesn’t really want to watch the movie, but she does, so what if it’s Valentine’s Day?! And then he text messaged her on and on reproaching her how she doesn’t make him a priority and the messages kept on coming while Jessica was laughing. This was a fricking pshyco.
The fourth date was the best, because it didn’t really happen. That’s a load off my shoulders!
Thank you for listening. Next time I’ll read you the best papers.
So what I want to say is that now that I made them write, I really fear opening the next blue book. What horror story will come out of it? What am I expected to do? I wasn’t prepared for this kind of response. I thought no one would improve their writing or use it to say something moving about themselves. But they did. And I don’t know how to respond.
I can’t meddle with their lives. Were I to teach them English 102, what would be the next level I’d take them to? I don’t know.
I’m relieved I’ll go to a new campus, not to deal with it…
But what have I done?!


Well, here you have it: If you’d like to throw a bit of money my way to keep my endeavors going, and also enable me to spread the money to my various causes, witnessing democracy, freedom of speech and faith, and engineering social change thru art being some of them, I’d be grateful.


New York
September 21, 2013

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