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I really did not know what to say.

This was my fifth observation of potential student teachers, a one-semester job I took on to help out a friend at a local university who needed the semester off due to a difficult pregnancy. The first four lessons had been solid (if flawed), but each observation held the promise of something great happening.

Today I was observing two potential English student teachers as part of their “pre-service” work preparing for the classroom, and the two young women who were partnering in this lesson were well-dressed and well-prepared. A class of 24 freshmen seemed ready to learn.

The lesson? How to address a business envelope.

This is evidently part of a program the school has agreed to that brings money in exchange for developing more opportunities for graduates to attend college. The curriculum doesn’t cost the district anything; it comes with a profit. When I asked the two young women about it later, they said it was part of a “checklist” program that mandates writing a properly-formatted business letter to a university department or admissions office asking for information on an area of study. The letter obviously needed to be mailed. It was on the checklist. Hence, today’s lesson.

The prospective teachers struggled and strained, creating a game (“Can you arrange these pieces on the blank envelope?”), some group work, and finally the actual addressing of the envelope.

That was it. Other than some silent reading, that was the entire class that day.

I was thinking that if I had spent more than five minutes teaching this skill, I would have been stretching, and, “Hey! Doesn’t Word have a template for this?”

Oh, and “Hey! Don’t people just go to university websites for this sort of information?”

Everyone—the student teachers, the cooperating teacher, the observer, and the students—played the game. I sat with a group of four freshman girls who defined the term “ennui.” No one rose up and protested. I briefly contemplated saying something, but didn’t want to compound the embarrassment of the young women teaching.

As I met later with the two student-teachers-to-be, I found myself struggling (as they had) to have something to say about this lesson. I wanted to scream. Perhaps they did too. But we talked politely about the potential glories of teaching and about how the game pieces might have been larger, making for easier manipulation.

By the way, one group did win the game, but no one at that table seemed particularly happy with the win. The girls at my table never really looked up at anyone else in the class. They never looked at me.

I stifled a yawn, just in case they might sneak a peak.

Jack Kennedy: After 30 years teaching English and advising school publications, Jack now torments college students at Metro State College of Denver and at Colorado State University, focusing on their writing (and thinking).

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