Talking to a Brick Wall

Amy Brosemer


“Who hasn’t finished their work from this morning?” I ask my students.  If my back had been turned, I could have accurately guessed which of my second graders’ hands would be waving at me guiltily. The recess gang can be found most afternoons on the sidewalk finishing work. All are fully competent, particularly at procrastinating—so good in fact that even losing their precious recess time can’t encourage them to get the work done. 


            Glancing around the room and sighing in disappointment, I count two of the usual hands, Alex and Emma. “Alright you two, get your stuff, and line up at the back door.” I then call for the other students to get their snacks and to line up behind the two offenders.


Why can’t they ever get this work done? They are two of my brightest students. What more can I do to get them engaged in class? I bet they don’t even remember the lesson I gave them on how to do this assignment. Shaking my head in bewilderment, I remember when I first introduced this writing activity. The assignment was to read a Time for Kids magazine and pick one or more topics from the articles to write about in a free write. When I had first introduced this way of doing a free write, I gave a mini lesson on how the students could write about anything in the magazine or anything it makes them think about or remember as long as they do not copy the magazine word for word.  I then proceeded to teach them about plagiarism.  No, I taught how to do this assignment well and am always more than happy to help them in the morning when they are working on it. There are eighteen other students watching me and waiting anxiously in line right now who prove that it is possible to get the work done.


That thought brought me back to the present. “Quiet in line,” I remind them like I’ve purposefully been waiting for just that. I turn to look at the two in the front of the line. “Alex, Emma, you two need to find a spot on the sidewalk near me to complete your work.” After giving them my stern teacher look and maintaining eye contact with each of them for a couple of seconds to let them see my disappointment, I open the door, and we file out to the playground.


The screaming and stampeding of 120 second graders welcome us as we reach the edge of the yard, and my eighteen who are free to roam quickly join the controlled chaos. My two offenders follow me slowly, dragging their feet and prolonging their inevitable return to work.


“Hey, Dalton,” I greet a fellow second-grade teacher as I hop on top of the picnic bench next to her. The white picnic table is positioned next to the sidewalk and playgrounds where we can keep a close eye on all the students.


“Your usual?” She gestures towards my followers.


“Yep,” I sigh and lift my face to catch a soft breeze. “I just don’t know what I’m going to do.”


“I know. I’m right there with you.” Dalton shakes her head as she glances over her three working on the sidewalk.


“Alex and Emma, park it, and get to work.” I motion them both into their separate areas, making sure they are sitting in the shade. As we get closer to summer, the afternoons keep getting hotter and hotter.


“Do you think they are even listening to us when we talk?” I ask, baffled.


“I know. It’s like talking to a brick wall,” Dalton replies, shaking her head.


We sit silently while we watch the other students play, at times yelling out a warning to a passing stampede or to a couple of monkeys on the bars, at other times stretching to catch more of a breeze on this particularly hot day.  After a few minutes, Alex gets up and comes toward me with his paper.


“Are you done?” I ask.


“Yes, ma’am.” He hands me his black and white marbled composition notebook, which is warped and bloated from being left outside overnight multiple times.


I start reading. I look up at Alex about halfway through the paper and hold out my hand. “Let me see the magazine.” He hands it over, and I compare his work to the magazine. I stop halfway through the paper again.


“Alex,” I sternly address him while handing back his journal, “you will need to do this paper again. You have copied this word for word. Sit back down, and try again. You know you are not allowed to steal someone else’s words.” I point at the sidewalk he vacated to emphasize my words.


“But Ms. Brosemer, you didn’t read all of it,” Alex insists and tries to pass back the journal.


“I don’t care. What I’ve read is enough. These are not your words. You stole them from the magazine. That is called plagiarism.” Again I point to the sidewalk and ignore the journal. 


“I know that. That’s why you need to read all of it.”


 “What am I going to find at the end of this paper that forgives the fact that you stole someone else’s words?” I question with a sigh.


“Please, just read it,” Alex persists and again holds out his journal for me to take back.


“Okay, okay, but if you don’t have something that excuses the fact that you’ve plagiarized, you will be sitting back down and rewriting.” I grab the journal and scan the rest of the paper, all word for word from the magazine. Except, that is, for the very last line, which I reread to make sure I understand what he’d written.


There at the bottom of his paper in his messy handwriting he has written, “I got all of this information from the Time for Kids magazine.”


Dumbfounded, I look up at Alex from the paper. “You said it wasn’t plagiarism as long as you wrote where you got it from,” he reminds me.


Still speechless, I turn my head to Dalton. She is laughing so hard that it is contagious, and I chuckle with her. I turn back to Alex who is grinning, knowing he is right and is going to get away with it. “You’re right. That is exactly what I said, and you did exactly what I told you.” I shake my head while still grinning back at him. “Go play.” He dashes off to freedom.


I look back at Dalton, and she pauses in her laughter long enough to say, “He so got you.”


Chuckling and still not really believing what just happened, I reply, “I guess we have our answer about whether or not they’re listening to us.”