Metaphors and Similes and Other Things You Don’t Need at Welding School

4 Oct

Written for this week’s DPChallenge:  Easy as Pie

Once upon a time when I had a job and an income and approximately the same amount of stress but coming from different areas, I was a high school English teacher in a kinda-stupid-but-ridiculously-snooty-even-though-it-is-mostly-populated-by-well-off-white-trash-types suburb.

The educational paradigm there was trying to shift itself into a thing that was totally student-centered.  As such, students were supposed to figure out what they wanted to do with the rest of their lives by age 14 and subsequently take only classes that would further this aim for the rest of their high school career and beyond.

I thought this model was pretty dumb. I’m certainly pro-career-minded education and allowing students to choose classes that will appeal to their interests as well as their individual learning styles; however, how’s anybody supposed to know what he’s going to do for the rest of his entire life at age 14? And shouldn’t we force him to read some things he doesn’t like, and do some math problems he’ll never use just to expand and exercise his brain?

Anyway, the point of this post is to fit into the weekly writing challenge and to set up, in your mind’s eye, my classroom in which the following frustrations took place:

Teaching metaphors and similes to ninth graders is like putting a Santa Claus costume on a cat.

You have to use a lot of force and a lot more cajoling, and then the end product isn’t even that attractive.

Because explaining the difference between a simile and just any old comparison to a bunch of freshmen is like explaining the difference between a tuna and a dolphin to a really backward, unconcerned-with-law deep-sea fisherman.

You can do it all day long, until all your breath is gone, and that fisherman is still going to harpoon the closest thing in the water, be it tuna, halibut, dolphin, or a smaller boat.  And that freshman, when asked to write a simile, is going to write you things like, “The baseball game was like a football game, except with fewer yardlines,” and “The Revolutionary War was like the Civil War, except with more British people.” (Note:  These are paraphrases of actual sentences that actually came across my desk.)

Oh yes, ninth graders can spout off the definition of a metaphor or a simile as vociferously and reliably as Ol’ Faithful spewing hot water.

But just like that hot water in Wyoming that springs up from the ground and turns ethereal, these definitions cannot be accessed in any useful, meaningful way.

That is, until those definitions, like that water that is steam, rematerialize in a different form and fall back on the students.

But it’s not their fault, not really.

A fourteen-year-old’s brain is Jello that hasn’t completely set.  There’s good stuff in there, and a lot of it–a can of fruit cocktail, some marshmallows.  But it’s not ready for consumption:  It still needs to be poured into a mold and then left in the icebox for a few hours.

One day, perhaps, after having endured the proper conditions, a brain is ready to come out of the fridge and be served out of delightful little fancy glasses.

And, of course, the thing about Jello, which also goes for a brain:  There’s always room for it.


48 Responses to “Metaphors and Similes and Other Things You Don’t Need at Welding School”

  1. R.A. Kerr 4 October 2012 at 7:52 PM #

    I love, absolutely love, this one: “The Revolutionary War was like the Civil War, except with more British people.”

    • TheBestofAlexandra 5 October 2012 at 2:03 PM #

      I may have taken some creative license with that example, but I think the original student-produced sentence did compare those two wars in some obtuse fashion. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  2. Amy E 5 October 2012 at 11:00 AM #

    I feel like grown ups forget what it is like to be a kid. It’s like you hit a certain age and think anyone younger than you has a head full of unchilled jello? Maybe you should have taught advanced/gifted/AP/IB classes and you would have been teaching an entirely different kind of person. When I was in high school it was like a race to see who could out-learn the teacher first and it was a game to learn the material before it was taught so you could correct the teacher.
    Seriously though, you sound a bit jaded and it makes me sad because I had teachers like that and it killed my love of learning.

    • TheBestofAlexandra 5 October 2012 at 12:08 PM #

      Oh darn it! It happened! I suspected I might come off as an elitist jerk, which was not my intent. Certainly not all students are like this, but you have to admit that brains take time and effort to develop, especially to develop abstract thinking abilities. Many of my students were stuck thinking concretely and literally. It was a challenge–a fun one at times– to encourage them to think more abstractly and figuratively.
      Thanks for keeping me accountable.

  3. Things You Realize After You Get Married 5 October 2012 at 11:05 AM #

    Great post and congrats on being FP! Your description of teaching English to ninth graders reminds me of what it’s like teaching research methodology to college students. Except for the few keeners in the class, most students have a, “I really don’t care…I’m only taking this class because I need it in order to graduate!” attitude. 😮

    • TheBestofAlexandra 5 October 2012 at 1:56 PM #

      Thanks for alerting me to my FP status, dude! Also, I’m going to have to start using the term “keener.” 🙂

  4. becomingcliche 5 October 2012 at 11:12 AM #

    Well stated. I teach computers to middle schoolers. There’s a lot of unset jello in my classroom.

    • TheBestofAlexandra 5 October 2012 at 2:06 PM #

      Thanks! And my heart goes out to you. 😉

    • Evelyn N. Alfred 7 October 2012 at 9:05 AM #

      Unset jello? 🙂 That’s hilarious, I’ll have to use that someday.

  5. bottledworder 5 October 2012 at 11:46 AM #

    Great post. Loved it. I do have a comment extending your analogy though. When you’re teaching older kids, say undergraduates, it sometimes feels like the jello has already set in awkward and unseemly shapes and you wish that the moulds used in high school were more effective. It gets harder and harder to thaw and re-set as we/they get older.

    • lsurrett2 5 October 2012 at 12:45 PM #

      It all rolls downhill, I used to think the same thing about my high school students. I would wonder how on earth they made it out of middle school without knowing how to take notes, how to outline, things I know they have to do (because my own children did it).

    • TheBestofAlexandra 5 October 2012 at 2:02 PM #

      Good point! I feel there are parts of my brain that got left on the counter too long…

  6. segmation 5 October 2012 at 11:52 AM #

    That is great about the brain is it has many uses. Hope your blog influences those that have lots of jello that there is still time for growth.

  7. themamadiary 5 October 2012 at 12:11 PM #

    agree… youth need to have my responsibility of choosing some of the elective classes – even if it ends up being worthless. because i owned up to that responsibility as a kid, i finished undergrad in a zip and made my academic learning worthy.

    • TheBestofAlexandra 5 October 2012 at 1:58 PM #

      Absolutely. Electives can be both fun, totally unnecessary, and greatly enhance a person’s life. I wouldn’t be the same person if I hadn’t taken JROTC in middle school to get out of gym.

  8. twoblackcadillacs 5 October 2012 at 12:43 PM #

    This is awesome.. I don’t know any of my friends who are in University other than my friend in English and sister in Journalism who actually need metaphors or similes in school or their work.

    • TheBestofAlexandra 5 October 2012 at 1:59 PM #

      True. I don’t necessarily need European History in my everyday life, but I’m certainly glad I was forced to take it.

      • twoblackcadillacs 12 October 2012 at 4:16 PM #

        That is the same for me with American History and Canadian and World Issues

  9. lsurrett2 5 October 2012 at 12:47 PM #

    I, too, think it’s ridiculous to ask that age of student to choose their future career. I took tons of AP science classes, and then majored in history in English. Go figure.

    • TheBestofAlexandra 5 October 2012 at 2:00 PM #

      I know, right? Of course, maybe I would’ve been better off as the nurse I thought I’d be at that age…

  10. Recovered Baptist 5 October 2012 at 2:00 PM #

    Well put. I am starting a new career as an English teacher in Europe, so I appreciate the insight.

  11. cruelladekill 5 October 2012 at 2:47 PM #

    You have a metaphor for similes. Brilliant.

    And yes, there is always room for more brain, whether it’s in your head or in a bowl of Jello.

  12. Grumpa Joe 5 October 2012 at 7:42 PM #

    I never did learn the difference between a metaphor and a simile. I’ve been released from the educational institution for over fifty years now, and to tell the truth I don’t think I care what the difference is, and somehow I managed to survive. I just Googled the words and came up with an explanation that defies gravity. I am glad I did that because now I can rest at ease that my education was not wasted on this piece of trivia.
    Great post, It was fun reading.

    • TheBestofAlexandra 5 October 2012 at 7:53 PM #

      You bring up a good point that the definitions are somewhat trivial. Does one need to know the definition of hyperbole to use it a million times a day? Does one need to know the exact definition of sunk cost to feel empty after having spent $20,000 on a brand new car that will be worth $15,000 after having been driven off the lot? No, of course not. But giving things we use every day labels is something we feel compelled to do.

      • Grumpa Joe 5 October 2012 at 9:40 PM #

        I know. That is why the darn dictionary has so many words to learn. My time is running short and the number of new words is filling more pages than I can keep up with.

  13. beautyblogorlando 5 October 2012 at 8:47 PM #

    I love it when style matches content– very well written post!

  14. marymtf 5 October 2012 at 9:59 PM #

    When a person begins their post with once up on a time you know that you and they are of a similar age. Once upon a time I was a student who was expected to know what she wanted to do when she grew up. It was utterly ridiculous. On another matter, as I was writing my challenge post on Easy as Pie my 12 year old granddaughter said, ‘I know what a simile is, nanna’ and she proceded to tell me. My darling had learned about it at primary school. So, although I agree that teen brains are still developing, (in fact i read that they keep on keeping on until they turn 25) we can’t generalise about them all. 🙂

    • TheBestofAlexandra 8 October 2012 at 4:52 PM #

      Of course. This was just my experience. And not even all my students were that dense. And good for your granddaughter!

  15. JellyPom 6 October 2012 at 7:30 AM #

    Haha love this post. As a 15 year old, I can’t wait until my brain gets to come out of the fridge. 🙂

    • TheBestofAlexandra 6 October 2012 at 9:08 AM #

      As a 25 year old, mine is only very recently out, and let me tell you: it is quite liberating. 🙂

      • 247southernvoice 6 October 2012 at 3:12 PM #

        I agree with you…brains take time to mature. I’m very glad that my parents continued to guide me until I was twenty. Now, three years later, I’m only just beginning to see how wise they were! 😉 Here’s to a lifetime of continued learning!

      • Lila 6 October 2012 at 6:49 PM #

        Quite liberating at 25? Maybe it’s time to stick my head in the freezer; I still feel like unset jello, ready to spill at the slightest tilt.

  16. camdenstables 6 October 2012 at 8:50 AM #

    My mother always said”you are not going to learn any younger” Even if they don’t “get it’, I am still putting it out there. Good (or bad) habits start young. Children and young adults should be exposed to proper life skills as soon as possible. Leaving them alone until they “can” learn is a recipe for disaster. I think we underestimate the young brain. I constantly challenge them without expecting full comprehension. A ton of skill methods for learning creates a solid foundation.

  17. Amanda Crissup 6 October 2012 at 10:32 AM #

    Your title caught my attention in part because a metaphor at a welding competition helped me become a better welder.

    I struggled through one of the challenges because of nerves and being unable to get my piece hot enough. Afterward, my judge commented that welding is like sewing. You make a stitch and then you go back almost right on top of it to make the next one. I can’t hand-sew anything straight to save my hide, but that has stuck with me and I think about that now every time I go to fire up our welder at work. Oddly, it helps.

    The relevance of this comment is that, you’re right. At 14 you shouldn’t have to know what you want to do with the rest of your life. Ten years ago, as a high school IB student I thought my drive to become a journalist no matter what made perfect sense. Things changed after college. My life changed. I’m now perfectly content identifying myself as a writer in my free-time who gets paid by the blue-collar world.

    I am glad that I did not have to commit my life to the career I wanted at 14.

  18. sula1968 6 October 2012 at 12:21 PM #

    Brilliant post, Love it

  19. sula1968 6 October 2012 at 12:22 PM #

    Reblogged this on Sula1968's Blog and commented:
    Love this post

  20. 247southernvoice 6 October 2012 at 3:10 PM #

    Very enjoyable post! Being one of the unusual students who happens to enjoy English, I can totally understand your frustration with the ninth-graders who don’t think before speaking their mind (always a recipe for disaster….since I’m only a sophomore in college, I can remember well being there.). Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed! In time you’ll find this means that your inbox will be as full as a teacup draining a bathtub. 😀

  21. ashanam 6 October 2012 at 11:59 PM #

    How disappointing. We worked with metaphors and similes in my middle school ELD class last year, and they found it really fun. I have no idea why. I just remember their smiles of pride and pure joy at writing–which doesn’t happen that often.

    • TheBestofAlexandra 8 October 2012 at 4:50 PM #

      That’s amazing! I’m glad somebody had better luck (or talent) than I did.

  22. dorothyadele 20 October 2012 at 2:34 PM #

    Very clever!

  23. La Petite Adventurista 21 October 2012 at 10:02 AM #


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