So I am going to draw the line somewhere. I had what I thought was my final draft, and I even sent it out to several friends and family members for proofing and feedback. The good news is that the feedback has been good, and I am relatively satisfied that Learn Me Gooder does not in fact suck.
My crack team of editors has also pointed out several excessive commas, misspellings, missing punctuation marks, and even a completely incorrect reference to a Bible verse (I'm Catholic, what can I say?). I am exceptionally thankful for my readers, and I am looking forward to hearing from the ones that haven't finished reading yet.
However, my obsessive nature makes (made) me feel like it JUST. WASN'T. GOOD. ENOUGH. YET.
So I've been tweaking again.
This might tick off my beta readers, when they find out that the draft they've read or are reading is like an obsolete iphone 3G, with the 4G being released. BUT, this is where I'm drawing that line that I spoke of earlier.
I've been going through the manuscript one LAST time, adding details here, scrubbing lines here, making transitions smoother here. I think I'm going to have to be happy with this (truly) FINAL draft.
I'm only in September of this last draft, so I still have some work to do (and there's the whole matter of the cover, the blurb, etc), but ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls of all ages...
I give to you the opening chapter of Learn Me Gooder:
(please hold your applause -- or unbridled fury -- till the very end)
Date: Monday, August 24, 2009
To: Fred Bommerson
From: Jack Woodson
Subject: Here we go again
Fred! My man!
Long time no talk, buddy! Wait, I talked to you on Saturday, right? But it’s been a long time since I e-mailed you from my classroom! What’s that you say – I’ve NEVER e-mailed you from my classroom? That’s because the portable classrooms outside didn’t have Internet access, but this year – wait for it – I’m inside the main building, baby!
I’m very pleased to report that the third grade will no longer be treated like steerage on the Titanic! No more sloshing through puddles when it rains just to get to the cafeteria. No more braving the freezing cold in February during restroom breaks. No more families of raccoons living (and sometimes dying) underneath the classroom floor.
Being inside will be fantastic. But I have so much more to talk about than just the new digs. Today was the first day of the brand new school year, and it’s amazing how I still get the first-day jitters, even with seven years of experience under my belt. I got into bed at ten o’clock last night, but I know I didn’t fall asleep before two. When I DID sleep, I had dreams where I was in class but couldn’t talk. When I opened my mouth, all that came out was a bleating trumpet sound, ala Charlie Brown’s generic adult. Not a very restful night, but I was up and at the school at seven anyway, ready and raring to go.
My morning started in the moshpit of our gymnasium, where all of the students and most of their parents had been packed in like sardines, waiting for the teachers to pick up their classes. I waded in to the gym, and it occurred to me that I must not be doing things right as a teacher because every year, they send me brand new kids and tell me to start over!
As I made my way through the maddening crowd, one lady stopped me and asked, “Excuse me, are you Mr. Woodson? Do you have Lakeisha Jefferson in your class?”
I consulted my class roster, and sure enough, there she was. Upon hearing the news, Ms. Jefferson seemed pleased that I would be teaching her daughter. A little TOO pleased. After witnessing a lengthy victory dance and the fourth violent hip thrust, I was starting to feel slightly uncomfortable with just HOW pleased she seemed to be.
She explained, “Lakeisha can be a handful sometimes, but I think she’ll behave better for a male teacher.”
Oh, joy! That’s a theory I can’t WAIT to test!
Once I had rounded up my students and taken them to my classroom, I was able to observe a few of the other kids. I have a boy named Jacob who is only 7 years old. Typically, third graders begin the year at age 8 and turn 9 at some point. Sure, we get our fair share of retainees who turn 10 (or, in one or two instances, 11) in the third grade. And I’m not even counting Alhambra, who turned 16, because he was clearly at the wrong school. But Jacob will only TURN 8 this year! He’s a baby among babies! He does seem relatively bright, though.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have Nestor (who is already 9), who can barely read or write. He already has me extremely worried.
This morning, I started the kids off with the usual first day activities – partial differential equations. Just kidding, they were doing the simple little “tell me about yourself” worksheets. Favorite color, favorite movies, names of family members, etc. I noticed Nestor following a pattern. He would ask his neighbor, “What does this say?” Then he would scribble something on his paper. “What does this say?” Scribble.
I wandered over and glanced at his paper. On every line, he had written the same thing, which was not even a real word.
“What is your favorite book?” “OGO”
“How many brothers and sisters do you have?” “OGO”
“What is your best friend’s name?” “OGO”
Clearly, I was not going to glean any personal information from Nestor’s entrance questionnaire. So I decided to use an alternate assessment to gauge his number sense. I gave him a blank sheet of paper and asked him to write down the numbers in order, as high as he could count. I watched as he wrote 1, 2, and 3, then I walked away to see how some of the other kids were doing. After about three minutes, Nestor raised his hand and motioned me over.
He asked, “What comes after R?”
At that moment, I experienced an ice cream headache without having actually consumed any ice cream.
As you can see, I’ve got my work cut out for me here. Nestor’s counting woes already make me think back to Hernando from a few years ago, who ALWAYS thought “catorce” came next when counting. Whenever we had a little free time, we would break out the counting cubes and practice in his native language.
“Uno, dos, tres. . . What comes next, Hernando?”
It’s possible that Bono of U2 was hanging around my portable that year and used Hernando as an inspiration for the opening to “Vertigo,” but somehow I doubt it.
There are two girls named Anna in my homeroom this year. They’re quite easy to tell apart, though. One of them is super short, and the other has an unusually deep, raspy voice. Both seem intelligent and well behaved, so I’m pleased to have both “Tiny Anna” and “Smoker Anna” in my class.
My afternoon class started the day in Mrs. Bird’s classroom (she’s my partner this year). One of her introductory activities was having the kids write their answer to the question, “How did you spend your summer?”
I looked at a random paper this afternoon, from a little girl named Betsy, and I was pleased to see that it started with, “It was fun, we went to Six Flags and Cici’s Pizza, and I got a new puppy.”
That’s so much better than if it had said, “My dad got caught trying to smuggle illegal fighting llamas into the country, so we visited him every Thursday from two to four at the Brownsville County Lockup. Also, my new puppy smells like paint thinner.”
Another girl in Mrs. Bird’s homeroom already feels comfortable enough to use a nickname in class. Her name is Gwenn, but on her papers, she wrote, “Priti Prinses.” I’m assuming she means Pretty Princess. I’m also assuming that’s a self-appointed nickname.
Well hey, I think the custodians want me out of here now, so I’m going to go home and find something to eat. Say hey to the gang there at Heat Pumps Unlimited for me. Let them know that my days of sleeping till noon are over.
At least until Saturday.
Talk to you later,
Newt B Ginnings