Where do you find your inspiration as a writer? Are you inspired by bits and pieces of life, snippets from books? Do you see where an author could have taken a book and then go write the book you wish you would have read?
One of the most unusual places that I’ve found inspiration to write a few years ago was from a text that was forwarded to me.
I had a creative writing teacher that once said any good writer should be able to take three lines and make three pages or to take three minutes and create three chapters. Is that necessary? Of course not, but at the same time, whether it’s ideal or not, it’s a fun submersion versus pacing exercise.
Even though this is something I wrote a few years back, I thought I’d share it again, along with the text (at the bottom of the story, so you don’t get a huge spoiler alert before you start reading). I’ll leave my own short text-like story underneath, as well. Write a short story inspired by the “text” and then link it below in the comments.
A Lesson of Thanksgiving
As I walked to the board, I knew I was in for an interesting day. The chalk seemed heavier, whiter, and the blackboard was significantly cleaner than normal. I wrote up today’s lesson plan in large, bold letters, using all capitals: “THANKSGIVING.” I made sure to put a rich period at the end, just to make sure the students knew there was nothing coming after the word.
Next, I turned my attention back to my desk. I grabbed the three aged books I had taken from home and stacked them on my desk. The first was War and Peace, an original edition, the second was Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and the third was a small book of German grammar rules. Then, carefully, I tied a deep red velvet ribbon around the stack. Beside the stack of books, I placed a kerosene lamp I had purchased recently from an Estate sale.
Satisfied that with only those few objects on my desk, there was a sufficient air of history, I walked to the back of the room to check the rest of the scenery.
The students’ desks had already been removed, taken to the library as a temporary measure. Their absence made the room seem empty, but it looked more like I was getting ready to wax the floors than do a lesson plan on Thanksgiving. So, in a quick attempt to make the room seem less parochial and more historical, I quickly pulled down the tan canvas blinds. Once all down, I closed the door to the student’s closet area, turned off the lights, and lit the lamp on my desk.
The room was ready.
Checking my watch, I knew the students would be arriving soon, so I positioned myself at the head of my desk. I had removed my own chair, as well, so I simply stood there, listening to my own heart thump out the mystery my mind had devised.
I had been planning today for a couple of months now, but as it was now upon me, I wasn’t certain this was the best idea. The principal had thought the plan would go fine, but for some reason, I felt like this was my first day being a teacher. My pulse was racing, my hands were cold and sweaty, and the smell of the classroom gave me the same jitters I used to get right before we were handed a test.
Luckily, I didn’t have time to ponder my own lack of calmness for long, because the warning bell rang in the hall outside. Soon, I could hear the teenagers shuffling around in their lockers, laughing and talking to one another. A couple of cell phones rang and were quickly silenced; though, not before seeming to scratch across my raw nerves first. Compared to the dark, dimly lit classroom I had decorated this morning, the technology felt oddly unwelcome.
When the first student opened the door to the classroom, the thump in my heart seemed loud enough to be audible all throughout the room. The student’s chatter fell dead silent as she glanced around the room. Quietly, she simply walked into the room and stood next to the drawn curtains.
When she looked at me, I simply smiled slightly, offering no explanation of the current décor changes.
The next students came bounding through the door jam, and suddenly smacked into one another as the first one stopped too quickly. I heard a student utter a curse at the back of the pileup.
“Come in and shut the door behind you,” I instructed the remaining the students. Oddly following orders for the first time, the students did as they were told.
After an eternity of awkward silence, one of the students finally asked where their desks were.
“I had them removed,” I stated simply. Seeing the students eye one another, looking for a hero amongst them, I further offered, “Please take your seats on the floor, if you would prefer not to stand.” Nobody moved for a minute, and then one of the guys plopped down. At the signal of the classmate, everyone else followed suit.
I began the lesson.
“You can only get your seats back if you tell me what you did to earn them.” Part of me wished one of the students would immediately shout out the right answer, demonstrating that they had a keen understanding of their present situation. The other part of me knew that if the answer was divulged too quickly, the students would not fully absorb the lesson to be learned.
“We earn our seats by getting good grades,” said one of the girls in the class. Shiloh had always been the talkative one in the class—a class clown, if you will. So, I was immediately thankful when she didn’t offer a joke to start out the lesson plan.
“No,” I explained. “You may earn rewards later in life by getting good grades, but the grades to do not earn you the right to sit at a desk.”
Apparently feeling as though I rebuked her, Shiloh scrunched her cute face up and immediately busied herself with her shoelace. There has always been an unstated rule in academia that if the student is preoccupied with something else, they are off-limits to the teacher’s further prodding. Unfortunately for Shiloh, I do not subscribe to that pedagogy.
“Shiloh,” I urged her to continue, “Would you elaborate on what you mean by that?”
Openly upset by the fact I didn’t leave her alone, she responded, “I don’t know. I just thought you were trying to teach us the importance of good grades.”
“Well, of course I want you all to get good grades, but there is something even more basic than that. There is a reason you all have desks to sit at in this classroom.” I paused a moment for effect, and then continued, “What I am asking is what that reason is. Tell me what you did to earn the desks, not what you should do once you are in them.”
“Oh,” exclaimed Danielle, a normally quite student. Even in the dim light, I could see her face darken, and she quickly lowered her eyes.
Danielle, for all her shyness, was one of the brightest students in the class, so I decided to just let her contemplate what had been said for a while.
“So, students,” I quickly began, trying to get the attention back on me, so Shiloh’s thought process wouldn’t be shut down by nervousness, “What have you done to earn your seats?”
“We studied and earned our right to be here by passing our other grades.” Matthew was referring to the fact they were all seniors this year. While he was technically correct, that was the not answer I was looking for.
Not wanting everyone to give up, I answered him,” Well, Matthew, if you had not passed your previous grades, you are right that you would not be here. So, let me rephrase my question, what did you do to earn the right to have desks in your Kindergarten class?”
“We passed pre-school,” answered Shiloh. Oh, ha-ha, I thought, annoyed. This lesson plan was not intended to be funny. I gave the other students a minute to get their chuckling out of the way, and then returned, “Shiloh, this is actually a very serious subject. Let’s all be silent for a minute while we think about it.” Of course, I had given away a little hint in that suggestion, but without following my train of thought, no one realized it as such.
Oddly, the students remained silent for the rest of the class. I was excited that they were actually thinking. Many of the students began looking around the classroom for hints, until eventually all eyes were on the blackboard. There the lesson plan remained, “THANKSGIVING.”
The hall bell rang again, and students somberly shuffled out, having missed the lesson. Hopefully, the next class would go better.
The next group of students came in with the same response as the first class. Only this time, the students spent most of the hour giggling and making jokes about the lights being dim. On more than one occasion, I had to reprimand the boys on their jokes about my being a perverted teacher wanting to get my class alone in the dark.
Nearly disheartened from the total lack of respect for the academic situation, I almost decided to turn on the lights and just call it a day.
Surely at some point in American history, there was a class somewhere that truly understood what they had done to earn their desks.
Then, just as I was beginning to lose all hope, the principal came to my door. Quickly the students silenced themselves, probably thinking the principal was there to give them detention.
“Ms. Myers, I have a journalist here whom would like to monitor your class today.”
Suddenly, the room became so still, you could have heard a mouse breath. “Of course. Invite her in,” I said seeing the young, bright-eyed journalist behind Mr. Parks.
The students’ interests were finally perked, realizing the answer must be something particularly fascinating, if a news person wanted to know, too. Oddly enough, having the news crew there only made me more certain of my resolve.
The third class came and went, without anyone guessing the right answer. What did come, however, were more journalists, this time with cameras.
By the time, my final class had arrived, other teachers (probably being cued in by the principal), had brought their own students to watch my lesson for the day. The students were all quiet and had their attention, respectfully, on me.
They were finally ready to learn.
With many more students crammed into my classroom, I called the principal. “They are ready,” I said cryptically. I went to the door and closed it.
“You are all lucky to be here,” I started. “It is so easy to take for granted what you yourselves never had to fight to get.” I let that sink in, and saw the students still staring at me, waiting to absorb more knowledge—every teacher’s dream situation. So, I attacked their sensibilities.
“None of you have earned your right to have a desk to sit in.” With that, I went to the door, and opened it back up. The principal had already turned off the hall lights, so my dimly lit room kept its effect.
A veteran walked in carrying a desk. In the dark, he looked like a ghost, solemn and ominous. Never turning to acknowledge me or the students, he set the desk down. Then, he walked behind me and stood at the front of the class room.
Twenty-six more American veterans performed the same procedure.
Once they were all lined up, I had each one speak. Instead of telling the students what they did to earn those seats, they instead spoke of a loved one whom had died in war. By the time the twenty-seventh veteran had told the story of a friend passing away, fighting for the freedom of his countrymen, many of the children were silently crying.
The lesson had been taught.
Their friends and family members had lost their lives and never come home, just so those students could sit in their seats. The veterans had survived; although, a part of them would never come back.
“You,” I said, trying unsuccessfully to keep my voice from wavering, “have not earned these seats. Never take that for granted. What you have is an opportunity to learn, live, and succeed. You didn’t earn that right.” I went and held the hand of one of the veterans who was shedding tears over a tight, emotionally neutral face. “He did.” Moving to each soldier, I added, “And he did. And he did.”
“They gave their all,” I concluded, “so you could sit in those desks. Be thankful.”
Then, I turned on the lights and smiled. “Go enjoy your Thanksgiving everyone. I look forward to seeing you when you get back.”
That was the first and only time I left the classroom before my students.
The text I’d received: “Here’s a heartwarming story I thought u would like: A teacher once asked her students how they earned their desks. She said they didn’t. When they didn’t understand, she brought in veterans to share their stories. She said they were the ones who earned the desks for the children.”
For you: “Here’s a story I thought u would like: A cashier once asked her boss how she could get a promotion. They said she already had. When she didn’t understand, they brought out her file. They said her position as a cashier had been her promotion.”
Want it, too? (Affiliated links.)
Ambiance: Country Plum
Drinking: Jasmine Tea