Monday, August 22, 2016

The Saga of Mrs. S: Fifth Grade

    The next year, there were no prep sessions. I was in fifth grade and enjoying my year of seniority - the special ten-week Broadway unit in music class, reserved for fifth-graders, the mysterious Family Life (ha - even in fifth grade they make a big deal about nothing but gender stereotypes and periods), and the preparation for middle school.

    But there were still the practice MSA’s. And they still wouldn’t let us bring in books or drawing paper, even for the practice ones.

    I decided I was thoroughly fed up. I knew that Mrs. S was the testing coordinator. Therefore, I thought, I could just write her a letter explaining all of my thoughts as to why the practice MSA’s, or at least the no-books policy, was stupid.

    I don’t remember the content of the letter - basically, it was outlining my exasperation with the MSA worship and the strictness of the test security rules, and challenging the merit of the innumerable test prep and practice exam sessions. I thought it was pretty well-written, at least for a fifth-grader, and proudly asked my classroom teacher which teacher I should hand it in to (Mrs. S).

    Unfortunately, though, I was already late for the morning announcements at that point, so I hurried to Mrs. S's room, which happened to be on the way, conveniently enough, and knocked on the door.

    She opened it, and I saw she had someone else in the room. On the verge of panic, I mumbled, “Um, here,” thrust the letter at her, and fled. Not my finest moment - I would pay dearly for it.

    I think it was about a week later when they called me to the office in the middle of a very boring math lesson. I planned to thank Mom for coming at such a serendipitous time to drop off whatever it was she had come to drop off - that’s all they ever ask a student to come to the office for. That or early dismissal, but they mention it when that’s what they want. It didn’t occur to me that they actually wanted to talk.

    When I walked into the office, I saw no family members. Confused, I asked the secretary what she needed me for, and she sent me to a little back office, in which I saw Mrs. S, who was looking gravely at me, and Mrs. G, the principal, who seemed to at least be making an effort to appear more welcoming.

    “Hi, Eowyn,” she greeted me pleasantly. At this point, I had figured out they must want to talk to me about my letter, and was pleased that I was finally getting a real chance to state my case without being dismissed.

    “Hi,” I said in return.

    “So, we’re here to talk to you about your letter,” Mrs. G began, glancing at Mrs. S. I nodded.

    They weren’t, actually. They were there to lecture me about how rude it was to thrust a letter at someone, and how strongly it could sway the impact the letter might otherwise have, and all the more polite ways I could have given Mrs. S my letter. They were also there to ignore my apologies and explanations and say the same thing over and over again until I had to resist the urge to ask them if they had actually read the damn letter.

    Finally, finally, the discussion moved to the content of the letter, and I could shed my I-am-listening-solemnly-and-humbly-to-your-valuable-words-of-wisdom face and actually tune back in without feeling a number of brain cells drop dead.

    But they basically said what they always say: “If we let you read when the test is done, then everyone else will want to read too.”

    “Well,” I answered, “why can’t everyone else read? At least for the practice MSA’s - they don’t actually count for anything.”

    “But the purpose of the practice MSA’s is to get you in the habit so you can take the real test.” Mrs. G smiled, appearing confident that her words were making a good deal of impact on me. “Since you can’t read in the real MSA, it doesn’t make sense to let you read in the practice one.”

    I sighed, sensing defeat, but decided to try my luck at something else. “Why do we need practice MSA’s, anyway? Except for the third-graders, everyone’s already taken the test at least once. They’ve already had practice MSA’s. Why don’t we just have the third-graders take the practice ones, or could we at least just take one practice one a year?”

    [Pointless reply reciting importance of being ready for tests]

    Most of my further inquiries were met by some form or another of this lecture, even the questions that weren’t actually asking about it, until I could tell that they were just reciting standard answers and not actually listening, and I was going to get absolutely nowhere. I politely thanked them for their time (or the fifth-grade equivalent of politely thanking someone for their time; I don’t remember what exactly I said to excuse myself) and got up to leave.

    “So, Eowyn, whaddaya think?” asked Mrs. G, grinning broadly. “Do you think you can muster up the stamina to take the tests?”

    Had I had a few more years to perfect my response, I would have retorted, “If you think my objection to the MSA’s had anything to do with my stamina, then this whole conversation was a waste of my time,” and stalked out. But, as I only had a few seconds, I stared dumbly at her, sensing I would later think of a good comeback, and mumbled, “Yes,” then slunk out, defeated.

    Advanced reading group with Mrs. S was just soooo fun the rest of the year! She harbored absolutely no grudges against me.

    When Linda lent me her copy of A Wrinkle in Time, lost it right before the reading group met, then blamed me, Mrs. S looked at me with the same grave disappointment she had in the office, and kept saying, “I just don’t know where it could have gone,” every time I protested my innocence and insisted I had given it back to Linda. When Linda found it at the bottom of her backpack, though, Mrs. S made up for it by apologizing profusely (note the sarcasm) for jumping to conclusions when it was my word against Linda’s and no incriminating evidence against me whatsoever.

    We had to read A Wrinkle in Time 1-2 chapters per week, depending on the length of the chapter. God forbid you get bored at a craft show, catch up on your reading, then suddenly find the book so riveting you read just one more chapter, then one more, and then the next thing you know you’re done with the book and have no regrets.

    Thing was, we were only supposed to have read through Chapter 3 at the time, so I had to keep my uncomfortable secret for quite a few weeks.

    When we read Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s autobiography, I humored my mother and read it in the assigned chunks, but all that obedience was driving me nuts, so when Mrs. S decided we should read Shiloh next, since it was one of the author's most famous books, I went straight to the school library, checked it out, and started reading. (The trilogy was excellent, by the way. Did you know they released a fourth?)

    The last day of reading group, we celebrated. Mrs. S and I had conflicting ideas of what exactly we were celebrating. She thought we were celebrating a successful year of reading, collaboration, and learning. I was celebrating the fact that it was over and I had maintained my self-control, through the agony, and not screamed my desperation to Cthulhu.

    She offered us all lollipops, but I wanted to read the ingredients list first. She always looked disapproving when I brought up that I couldn’t have artificial colors, like she thought I was just making it up to cause trouble. When the print was too small for the human eye to decipher, and, to be safe, I thanked her for the offer but said I would pass, she gave me a you-know-that’s-not-necessary-and-you’re-just-being-a-jerk look and chided, in a voice that mirrored her look, “Would it really kill you to have one just once?”

    I stared at her - not as a deer caught in headlights, but in righteous indignation. I was, much to my regret, still speechless.

    “I mean-” she switched her tone to wounded “-I brought these in to be nice.”

    “I know,” I replied through gritted teeth. “And I’m sorry. But I’d rather be on the safe side and not have one.”

    She sighed, like I was a lost cause not even worthy of further rudeness, and replied, “Well, it’s your choice.”

    Later, I got the joyous news that Mrs. S was leaving, gone to teach in another county, never to return!

    Hallelujah! There is justice in this world! May she be faced with countless children who have my heart, soul, and food allergies, and may their tongues be swifter and sharper than mine were at the time, so she may die by the scorn of her students - for I, too, can harbor grudges.

    I then encountered the child-loathing sadist Ms. A, the other one, my health teacher Mr. B, and, most recently, my science teacher Mr. A, who actually wasn’t that awful most of the time but disliked me for numerous invalid reasons. But now I’m off to high school, with all of them in my past, and now I have student court training that has prepared me to generate killer comebacks on the spot. So, future child-loathing sadists, beware!

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