Sunday, 27 June 2010


It's summer. The Mediterranean is a sheet of blue turquoise, streaked with azure and aqua. The jacarandas swell with soft purple blossoms, the morning breezes are scented with jasmine and lemon. Birds fill the warm air with their trills, tiny grey lizards scurry in and out of the rock wall that surrounds our house, and the terraced gardens bloom with bougainvillea and wild morning glories. Inside the house, my kids are bored.

I'm not bored. I got up at 6:30 and baked a dozen apple oat-bran muffins and a loaf of banana bread. I've put on a wash, swum 500 meters, cleaned the kitchen floor, and made breakfast. You don't want to know what my kids have been doing. They don't want you to know either. Fortunately, we have books and cards. My kids may get bored occasionally, but at least they know how to divert themselves with books and cards. I breathe a sigh of relief and switch on my computer.

Thirty minutes later, I'm almost bored myself. I'm rewriting a manuscript I finished a few years ago which has subsequently unwritten itself. Scenes which I clearly remember as funny and lively suddenly ring wooden and lackluster. I've rewritten this twice now and it's still not right. Maybe I need to distance myself from it. Maybe a diversion is in order? A little dalliance with Facebook...

I click into my Facebook account. No sooner have I logged in than the following message pops up at the bottom of my screen, from Ahmed, one of my students from last term: Hello my teacher how are you?

I ignore it, but five minutes later, Ahmet is back.

Teacher how are you I miss you?

Aww... I'm touched. How are you Ahmet? I type back. How is your summer so far?

Ahmet's answer takes so long, I'm about to click out of Facebook and get back to work on that pesky WIP, but before I can do this, it comes through: Teacher very borring summer.

Which is what I get for friending my ex-students on Facebook. Read a book, I write back. Get one of those learners' English readers out of the library and get some good studying done.

Ahmet checking out an English reader is about as likely to happen as world peace within the next two years, but I live in hope.

Leaving Ahmet to his own devices, I go back to my work in progress. I read over the Halloween scene, when the bullies from my protagonist's school stumble into the closet where a road-kill deer is dripping into a bucket in the dark. I'm disgusted with myself: this scene isn't funny. How could I have written this and left out the funny? An hour later, I've washed and hung out another wash and the Halloween scene is much better. But my kids are bored again. They're thinking of going for a swim, but they want me to come with them to the pool. "I've already been!" I tell them. "I swam half a kilometer while you were sleeping!"

They grumble a little, but at least they go. I go back to my work in progress, but I'm tired. It's time for another break, isn't it? After all, I've baked muffins, cleaned the floor, put on two washes AND coped with adolescent ennui; I'm owed a break, aren't I? I click into Facebook and spend an amusing ten minutes, and once again, just as I'm about to click out, another message pops onto my screen: Hello how are you my teacher? You don't go home American? This one is from Gökhan, another ex-student.

Oh, what the hell. Hi Gökhan, how is your summer?

There is a long pause. Teacher this summer very bored.

I take a deep breath. Are you back home?

There is such a long pause that I'm sure Gökhan has either gotten involved with a more interesting interlocutor or given up, but before I can click off, his reply comes through. Teacher I am here I donot pass professcency exam.

You didn't pass the proficiency exam? This doesn't make sense. Gökhan wasn't a brilliant student, but he should have passed the proficiency exam.

Another long pause. I mistake writing composetion. Write futur, not past. I stay here take exam again after summer school.

By Herculean effort, I resist the urge to write I told you to read the instructions carefully! and write I'm so sorry. And then because I can't help myself, Practice your writing with me any time! Gökhan assures me he will, but I know I'm safe in volunteering my time. If I couldn't get him to spare fifteen minutes on exam review, there's no way he'll take me up on this.

My kids are back from the swimming pool by the time I get on Facebook again, and they're already looking for something else to do. Before I can talk to them, this message pops up on my screen: Hello teacher you are well? It's from Ümit, another ex-student.

I'm fine, Ümit, how are you?

Teacher, Very boring summer. this island very boring.

Oh, for pity's sake! Why is it my fault if they're bored? What can I possibly do about it? Go out and read a book or write to your friends or go fishing. Climb a mountain, volunteer at the local animal shelter, or raise money for charity. But don't tell me about it. I've had enough. I am officially bored of being bored.

Teacher I see you yesterday near harbour!

I ignore this and comment on a friend's post. Let Ümit go and find himself a girlfriend! When I was his age, my friends and I wouldn't have dreamed of chewing the fat with our teachers this way. We knew that we had to make our own fun; that it wasn't up to our parents or -- God forbid! -- our teachers to supply it.

You were shopping!

Yes, I was down at the harbor yesterday, shopping with my daughters. And Ümit's writing has certainly picked up some speed. Before I can write a reply, he adds: You are with very beautiful girls!

Uh oh.

Got to go now I quickly type. Hope you have a good summer!

Let them find their own diversions. Parents and teachers should only do so much.


Carole said...

Bored is definately the preferred state of being with all kids from age 11 to 21 isn't it. This is the disadvantage of technology. Our young ones have not learned how to entertain themselves unless they have multiple activites going on at the same time.

Kim Ayres said...

I have to confess I have the Chat permenantly turned off on Facebook. I only use it when I've made a prior appointment with someone - a bit like when you want a decent phonecall so set aside time for it.

Postman said...

I'm the same as Sir Ayres. Got the chat permanently turned off. I don't like the idea that I could be spotted by somebody I don't like but became friends with on Facebook because I didn't want to offend them. Otherwise, I get distracted...and MY manuscript needs so much work that I can ill afford distractions.

Charles Gramlich said...

I can't imagine I'll ever really understand the sentiment of summer boredom. I was never bored during the summer as a kid. there was just so much FUN to be had. Swimming, hiking, reading, running, playing, reading, climbing trees, exploring, reading,

Robert the Skeptic said...

Well, if one is to be bored, it seems like a lovely place to experience boredom.

I don't ever remember summer vacation being boring. Unfortunately much of my summer was consumed with "summer school"; I was not a good student so my parents thought that increasing the VOLUME of schooling would bring me around. It didn't.

I loved the summers, biking and exploring with my friends, late warm nights. Now retired, summer is still my favorite time of year. I am seldom bored.

Marcia said...

I guess boredom is independent of beautiful surroundings. How interesting that they all want to chat with you. Students and teachers seem to treat each other a little more like people today -- acknowledging that teachers don't live in the schoolhouse and kids are more than homework machines. That part, I'm sorry I missed.

e said...

I don't have FB, but I cannot imagine American kids contacting their teachers out of boredom during school breaks.

Turning off your chat sounds like a good remedy.

AnneB said...

I tried chatting once and vowed, "Never again."

I found I was much too impatient to wait for someone to type their r e s p o n s es o n e l e tttttt e r a t a t m i e.

Plus the typing errors drove me wild.

Mary Witzl said...

Carole -- Boredom is definitely a common affliction of modern youth. At least my kids can read and play cards, but even with the internet, beaches, and a fantastic mountain range, the students I used to teach are bored. They make me feel so old!

Kim -- Believe me, once I can get my kids to show me how to do this, I'll do it! I didn't even know you Facebook HAD a chat function until a few months ago when I discovered it almost by accident.

Postman -- See, you and Kim are young and knowledgeable about these things. Tomorrow, I'll book some kid time (I'll catch them when they're bored) and get them to show me how to switch off my Facebook chat function.

Good luck with your MS! Mine certainly doesn't need any other distractions.

Charles -- It drives me wild to hear kids saying they're bored when they are surrounded by fascinating diversions. Wish I could plunk them down in church for hours on end, or make them sit in agriculture libraries with nothing to look at but 3-year-old plant pathology journals.

Robert -- To hear my students talk, you'd think we were living in the dullest, ugliest, most yawn-worthy place in the world. They really don't know how good they've got it, but I can't tell them. Or I can, but they don't believe me.

I'd love to be a student again, with someone else paying my bills and cooking my meals -- and unlimited internet access. How can kids these days be bored when they have the internet?

Marcia -- The same students who couldn't wait to see the back of me only weeks ago now yearn to chat with me. There's no question about it: they really ARE bored.

I'm generally a pretty relaxed teacher, but I'm wondering if I wouldn't have been more effective if I'd brandished a ruler, posted class rules on the board, and worn my hair in a permanent bun.

e -- The Facebook chat function will be switched off the minute I learn how to do it (from my kids). Until I saw these comments, I didn't even know you COULD turn it off!

AnneB -- You're a fast typist too, aren't you? My old critique group was full of good writers who were also incredibly fast typists and great spellers. They ruined me for chatting with anyone else.

Robin said...

Oh, dear, I can't help laughing. "You were with too very beautiful girls." Oh, man. I don't know why that tickles me so much. Maybe it's because my boys joke about stalkers so much.

I don't blame you for being bored with being bored. Why do women have to hear these complaints? I like your suggestion about studying - it also gave me the giggles.

Vijaya said...

My kids don't say they're bored because I put them to work! Hah!

How odd that your students are so chummy with you? I'd rather they think I lived at school or something (I guess only kindergartners think that, no?).

My protective mothering instincts went into overdrive when I read "you were with two very beautiful girls."

Pat said...

I'm still drooling over the banana bread.
I think it's sweet your ex pupils want to chat. Although it must be maddening for you it's a clear indication of the respect they have for you. Something the chap in 'The Browning Version' would have given his eye teeth for.

Jacqui said...

I had one former sort of student who kept chatting at me. Every time he popped up, I got so freaked that I'd shriek and log off immediately. Turning off chat is much better.

Angela Ackerman said...

LOL. Boredom is a disease, isn't it?

Well, look at it this way--you're students might be an incentive to not procrastinate on FB!

Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

Mary Witzl said...

Robin -- My girls joke about stalkers all the time too, and they joke about all the cute guys they want to stalk and think this is VERY funny. They are wholly unaware of being stalkworthy themselves, which isn't quite so funny.

Next time I hear anyone whine that they're bored, I swear to God I'll send them the URLs of my favorite charities. Or better yet, I'll send the charities the whiners' email addresses. Charities are always looking for volunteers whose time hangs heavy on their hands.

Vijaya -- My protective mothering instinct flew right off the charts when I read that! On a few occasions, my daughters have noticed how good-looking some of my students are. Let them work out their own ways to find solutions for being bored -- I'm not playing matchmaker.

Pat -- The banana bread had raisins, walnuts and orange zest in it. And I only had a tiny bite...

The problem is that my students only want to communicate this way. I think I could have taught a whole semester's worth of English via texting and Facebook and they'd have been thrilled. Opening real books didn't enthrall them quite so much.

Jacqui -- The younger teachers get a lot more of this than I do. I suspect my daughters have something to do with why I've had so much Facebook contact from my students.

I still haven't figured out how to disable the chat function, but my girls are going to show me how today. Live and learn.

Angela -- But I know from experience that I'd just find another way to procrastinate. Like blogging, for instance... The devil finds work for idle hands. I'm working out a good system, though: if I rewrite three pages, I may reward myself with 30 minutes of internet play. This way, I'll actually turn out completed manuscripts. Wish me luck!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

is that true?

Mary Witzl said...

Yes. The names were changed to protect the innocent -- and the guilty.