An emoticon goodbye

2nd August 2013 at 01:00

Endings are a problem. My students create engaging characters and plots but finish their stories with cliches. Their favourite ending, "And then I woke up", ranks alongside "The principal's on a learning walk" or "Your skirt's tucked in to your underwear" as a phrase guaranteed to fill me with despair. They think this dream-theme denouement adds a fresh twist; in fact it's like being smacked in the face with a wet fish.

Attaching this glib ending to a promising tale is like rounding off a Michelin-starred meal with a McFlurry. In the kids' defence, Hollywood, in movies such as Inception, has pulled off a variant on this theme. But it rarely works for my students. Nor does their second favourite ending: "Then everything went black." Again, there's precedent for this. But whereas The Sopranos' writing team cuts to black with some panache, in the kids' versions, the "disgusting smell" that "crawled up my nostrils", the capitalised "BANG!" and the 37 references to blood diminish its dramatic impact.

And then there are the students who don't end their tales at all. You turn the page looking for the rest of the story but there's nothing: no final line, no real sense of an ending. It makes you wonder if anything in their life has closure. Do they finish their dinners and walk away, leaving a roast potato stuck on their fork and their knife jutting out of the butter?

Last words are hard for teachers, too. Anything more emotional than a scheme of work gives us writer's block. Leavers' cards are the worst. By the time they get to you they're full of such lofty Shakespearean sentiments that "Good luck" seems like a shrug. So you resort to a colon, a dash and a bracket, hoping that your sad-faced emoticon speaks louder than words.

This is all a very roundabout way of telling you that this is my last column for TES. So, in the interests of narrative closure, I should probably tie up a few loose ends. The first one being my marriage. The bastard husband who walked out on me three years ago is back at my side. The midlife crisis that drove him away seems to have been just another passing male fad, like wearing Crocs or cooking celeriac mash.

My beautiful daughter, a casualty of our break-up, has also come home and is in recovery. The good news is that her brother has started stealing chocolate from her room. This means that 1) she must be looking better or he wouldn't have risked it, and 2) pinching food from his anorexic sister means he is probably a psychopath so may well end up as a chief executive.

But the trauma of my daughter's illness is one of the reasons I need to stop: her fragility has woken me up to the more important things in life.

How, then, do I sign off? In iconic movie endings the protagonists leave in a blaze of glory, raging against the dying of the light. But since I'm more likely to drive to a new factory retail outlet than over a precipitous cliff, I'm left with the bastard emoticon.

Keep fighting the good fight, Anne ;-)

Anne Thrope (Ms) is a teacher in the North of England. @AnnethropeMs.

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