Thursday, September 17, 1987

Red Pen

I wrote this in the hour after an unhappy incident with a student teacher in my junior year of high school. (Writing this was without question the most productive time I ever spent in trigonometry class.) It was published (the next year) in the school literary journal, One Hand Clapping. Since the story is essentially true up to the third paragraph, it was amusing to the students who remembered the incident when it was published.

We used "Ralph Peterson, Jr." as a standard anonymous name on the literary journal after he had been run as a fake candidate for student body president the year before. (I took it upon myself to run him for Student Union Assembly chair at UCSC in 1989; I don't have any of the posters we produced for him, though, or I'd put them up here.)


Ralph "Papa" Peterson

The student came into the class angry. He didn't like the teacher; he didn't like the work she assigned; he didn't like the books she made him read. But he came. He sat down peaceably. The bell rang. Announcements were read. Papers were passed back. his essay was dotted with corrections that -- more often than not -- were arbitrary. His anger increased. Dittoes were passed out.

He corrected a ditto, giggling and smirking. He found many mistakes. More than she had found on his essay. He giggled as he marked with red felt-tipped pen. He wrote, "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach," in big dark red letters. He finished. He waited for the right moment, giggling to himself. Then he handed the red-splotched paper back to the teacher.

She was not pleased. She stood in front of the student's desk. She said, "Come outside."

The student replied, "Red pens. Three touches." She nodded.

They went into the hall. Another teacher came. The second teacher officiated. The student and the first teacher began walking apart. They turned to face each other.

The officiating teacher shouted, "Go!" They began. They thrusted. They parried. They lunged. The teacher scored, the student's sweater acquired a spot. Then the student scored. A red splotch appeared on the teacher. The end was in doubt. But twice more the student scored. Two more blood-red marks were found on the teachers coat. The second teacher called it over.

The teacher and the student slowly reentered the class. The other students stared. The old teacher took the student's desk. The student went up to the podium and spoke.

"Let's continue, class."

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