School’s Out: A Veteran Teacher’s Favorite Snippets of Student Writing

High school teacher Tim Clancy has been finding the funny in student writing assignments for 25 years.

From mangled metaphors (“If you’re quiet enough, you can hear a pin drop in a haystack.”) to uproarious usages (“We conglomerated at Paul’s house.”) Clancy saves his pupils’ most memorable passages all year. On the last day of the school, he and his classes read the collection, compare favorite flubs, and laugh a lot. His students often advise him, “Mr. Clancy, you should make a book of these.”

Since school’s almost out, Clancy picked five snippets for us (with illustrations by Johnny Sampson), so we can join the year-end ritual. 

Best in Class

“The most notable aspect of this novel was its lack of romantic sediment.”

I love the erudite diction— notable, aspect, romantic— undercut by the scholarly-word-gone-wrong: “sediment.” The accompanying illustration is perfect. Any teacher or student of literature will recognize the layers of literary sediment— complete with farmhouse and barn on the surface!

Best in Class

“A big decision fell over on me last night.”

The idea that a decision would “fall” on someone is, by itself, a funny way to express the sudden impact of a choice. It’s made even funnier by illustrator Johnny Sampson’s literal rendering of the word “DECISION,” lying on top of the poor, flattened writer.

Best in Class

“My arm fell asleep, as did Natalie, my date.”

I used to tell my students that humor often results when you juxtapose two things don’t normally go together. This quote illustrates that classic concept. And, as memorable writing often does, the last word gives the whole line an added kick. Add Johnny’s artfully whacky interpretation, and you have to laugh out loud.

Best in Class

“It was a typical day by a barbed wire fence surrounding a crater.”

In classic humorous form, this line describes the day as “typical,” then goes on to undermine the word “typical” with two details that are anything but: barbed wire and a crater. The resulting mental image, definitely a head-scratcher for the reader, is delightfully— and somewhat ominously!— illustrated.

Best in Class

“I don’t think London is an adequate place to goof off.”

In contrast to what some people might think about London, this writer, clearly, has a different opinion. Again, it’s especially funny because the words “goof off” are saved for the end of the statement. Johnny’s ingenious interpretation of paper airplanes lodged in a British guardsman’s huge fluffy hat is all the evidence we need for the classic teacher admonition— that’s inappropriate!

Best in Class

Lucky for us, Tim Clancy took his students’ advice and turned his collection into a book, Best in Class: Essential Wisdom from Real Student Writing, illustrated by Johnny Sampson. You can find it here.

As a high schooler once said, “If you enjoy books that make things very simple and slap you in the face with information, this book is right up your alley.” We think that goes for Best in Class, too.

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