Middle School’s Dark Hilarities

By Peter Mountford, WITS Writer-in-Residence

Any teacher will tell you that the first year, maybe two years, is an exhausting and incredibly overwhelming experience. Middle school is especially hardcore, because the students aren’t so young as to be wide-eyed cherubs, but they’re also not old enough to want to want to fake like they’re an adult. Puberty is wreaking havoc on some, leaving others in an awkward holding pattern. It’s a tough landscape for the kids, and it’s a tough landscape for the teacher.

My first year with WITS, I taught eighth graders at Seattle’s TOPS school, and the first day, I tried to treat them like high school students, and there was nearly a mutiny. For the rest of the semester, I got no respect, and I sweated through each of the periods.

Now, some six years later, one of the highlights of my various teaching jobs—I also teach adults and teens at Hugo House, Seattle’s writing center, and I’m on faculty at Sierra Nevada College’s MFA program—is when I spend two weeks offering intensive instruction to eighth graders at Blue Heron Middle School, in Port Townsend.

This year, as is often the case, the most “difficult” class—I’m talking to you, fifth period!—was also probably the most engaged in the process. The class was almost twice the size of my second period class, and the kids were squirrelly after lunch, but every single one of them worked hard and ended up writing a short story during my two weeks there.

The stories were deranged and dark and hilarious. One student named Max wrote a magnificent little story about a man, a solitary man, who wakes up and is puttering around doing his morning routine when a meteor blasts through his roof and hits his couch:

“…the asteroid smashed through my roof and landed on my once fine couch with the force of over four hundred kilotons of TNT. I had bought the couch, half-off, at a yard sale three years ago. It was quite a bargain, the only issue with it was it had some damage to the fabric, but it was easily fixed. The couch was a light green color, with one of those little levers on the side which, if you pull, the little foot pops out. It even had a little cup holder. The world lost a great couch then. The crater spanned a three mile diameter…”

His crazy juxtapositions reveal a great comic ear. From that point on, time slows to a crawl, and the rest of the story takes place over the next few milliseconds—this poor chap’s last seconds of life—while he contemplates his couch, which he liked a lot, and his life, about which he was more ambivalent. When Max read it aloud on the final day, all of us in the room were in hysterics—it was one of the funniest pieces of writing I’ve read anywhere in a long time

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