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Posted: April 24, 2012 8:26 p.m.

Travis: Students’ strange, funny answers to questions

I wrote one column about unexpected and funny answers students sometimes write on tests. But unexpected and funny answers from students can come in other forms. When you get a funny answer to a question and the whole class is paying attention, you don't want to laugh and hurt a student's feelings, but sometimes the comment is so startling that you just can't help but laugh.

Calling on a student to read a passage or a sentence in a grammar exercise can be tricky. Some students don't like to read aloud and some can't do it well and are embarrassed about their lack of ability. I always tried to take student abilities into consideration when calling on someone to read aloud. But even then, I got a surprise one day when a student said he couldn't read because he was lactose intolerant. I tried hard not to laugh and to explain what the term meant. I am sure he had heard advertisements on television about soy milk or some medicine for the condition and decided it would make a good excuse in class without bothering to determine if the excuse would make sense.

The freshman language arts curriculum called for students to make a three-minute speech on a topic which they researched. I always approved the topic but even prior approval did not preclude surprises. One student gave a speech on elephants. He informed the class that elephants went about the business of procreation in water because the buoyancy of the water helped with the weight problem. To this day, if someone mentions elephants, I still get that disturbing picture in my mind.

Another teacher had a student (I don't remember what the topic was) tell her in a speech that after the age of 40 people lose .5 inches in height each year. The actual statistic is that after the age of 40, people lose about one centimeter (.04 inches) of height every 10 years. She told him that if his statistic were true, she would not be able to see over her desk. Her reply was probably an exaggeration, but I think she was offended. She was always touchy about her age.

But my most memorable unexpected answer came in a Business English class. The curriculum called for the students to role play a job interview. One student, Mr. Smith, (names changed to protect the guilty) was interviewing Mr. Jones. The pretend interview was lurching along when Mr. Smith said, "And now, Mr. (Jones), what is your IQ?"

We had discussed what were appropriate questions. Education and previous job experiences were on the list as well salary and job expectations. But not IQ. Maybe Mr. Smith decided IQ was somehow related to education.

Anyway, Mr. Jones was up to the question. Without a second's hesitation, he proudly answered, "20-20." He had a perfect IQ.

Now, in defense of Mr. Jones, he was a junior in high school, and, I am sure, no one had ever told him what his IQ was. And, obviously, he had no idea what number would be an acceptable answer.

But I am sure he thought he needed a number and somewhere in the back of his mind he remembered that 20-20 was perfect. He just didn't know the number applied to eye sight, not IQ.

I know people constantly despair about the present state of teenagers and the amount of knowledge they are able to acquire. But that complaint is as old as classical Greece.

If I remember correctly, Mr. Smith's ambition was to have a job with a desk and a phone. That ambition makes this event pretty old.

In fact, this particular class assignment had to have occurred close to 40 years ago. I remember the class room. It had no walls. So that places this event before Newton County High School enclosed its class rooms.

In case you're wondering, not one student in the class laughed. They all thought Mr. Jones had a perfect IQ. I didn't laugh either. I was too bemused.

 

Paula Travis is a retired teacher from the Newton County School System. She can be reached at ptravis@covnews.com.

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