Friday, April 3, 2009

Flashback Friday: A plea for equal alphabetical rights

I have always been a good student. In fifth grade, I got along with my teacher, Ms. Graham, by quietly meeting expectations. She was fairly strict, but I wasn't typically one to cause trouble (exception: the time I was taken into the hall to define the word "wedgie" to Ms. Graham when another student tattled on me for having noticed hers aloud), so we generally remained allies in the classroom.

In preparation for an upcoming assignment, we were instructed to contemplate and select some task on which we considered ourselves an "expert." Next we would prepare formal presentations instructing our classmates on the intricate details of the chosen task. Ms. Graham described an example for making a peanut butter and jelly sandwhich. The presentation would involve an overview of the materials needed and a demonstration of every little step from extracting 2 slices of bread from the bag to taking the first bite, including any special techniques for avoiding jelly spillout, etc.

At home, I discussed some options with my mother, and ultimately decided enthusiastically on demonstrating how to wrap a present. I probably loved a good gift-wrapping session then even more than I do now, and my mom and I had some creative ideas for my presentation.

It would have been absurd for half of the class to explain how to make a sandwich, so the next day Ms. Graham recorded the title of each planned demonstration. Beginning at the top of her class roster, she asked each student to announce his or her selected area of expertise. I settled into the familiar boredom of waiting to get from the "A" names down to my "W" name.

I was only bored until little miss Emily Pratt casually declared that she would teach the class how to wrap a present. I felt my face get hot as boys and girls around me continued to indifferently state their choices. Ms. Graham had informed us that there were to be no duplicate topics.

I had my heart set on giving a kick-ass demonstration of gift-wrapping genius. I wondered how Emily could possibly have chosen the same theme as I, when I was clearly far more brilliant. Although slightly irritated, I had no intentions of changing my mind.

When Ms. Graham called my name, I responded calmly.

"How to wrap a present," I said.

"Emily is already doing that," she said. "You have to do something else."

I declined.

After finishing with the last student on the list (which may well have been me), Ms. Graham gave the rest of the class some busywork (I can only assume) and took Emily and me aside to discuss the dilemma.

Her intial query was whether or not I had told anyone my idea before class, which I had not. The most aggravating part of the situation, then, was that Ms. Graham thereby inferred I must have simply copied Emily's idea after hearing her state it during class. As if instead of completing the task assigned, I planned to simply wait until I heard someone else mention an idea I liked and use that one. Were all my hard work and good grades and tiny defining illustrations accompanying every word on spelling tests because I could spell the words at lightning speed not enough to gain her trust?

I launched a passionate argument against the injustice of forcing me to change my selection simply because P comes before W in the alphabet. My pleading tears must have been effective, because Ms. Graham withdrew her "no repeats" rule and granted Miss Pratt and I both the right to present our identical supposed areas of expertise.

On the big day, Emily's demonstration preceded mine in the lineup. She adequately demosntrated how to wrap a rectangular box. Bravo!

During my turn, I showed a much easier way to wrap a rectangluar box, plus some techniques for wrapping odd-shaped or cylindrical gifts, adding ribbon, and more. I felt a little bit guilty that my presentation was so much more thorough. I suppose that validates Ms. Graham's plan to avoid two students being "an expert" on the same topic, since expertise is relative among fifth graders.

The only other presentation that remains a flicker in my memory came from the boy who actually used the sample task: making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I was really annoyed that he put the peanut butter and the jelly on the same piece of bread. And the sandwich was really sloppy. And who chooses the teacher's example for an assignment like this?

Perhaps someone who didn't take the time to think of something better at home, and whose ill-fated last name starts with A.


jaeyde said...

First name that starts with A => instead of being first in classroom stuff, you just end up being the first person whose phone will ring when your drunken friend sits on their phone at 3am. :)

Bridget said...

I liked this part:

"Were all my hard work and good grades and tiny defining illustrations accompanying every word on spelling tests because I could spell the words at lightning speed not enough to gain her trust?"

As you know, I can totally sympathize with you on being at the end of the alphabet. You've reminded me of my own story of elementary school injustice that I might have to use for a FF sometime...


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