Colleen was a hand-waver, one of the slightly obnoxious ones who’d bounce in her seat while caught up in the throes of enthusiasm. “Me! Me, teacher! Call on me!” she’d insist. Valerie, on the other hand, was the slinker in the group. She’d sit in the back row of our third grade classroom, sinking lower and lower into her one-armed wooden desk until you thought she just might dissolve into a puddle and flow away beneath the door, evaporating out of our lives forever.
Neither a slinker nor a hand-waver, I preferred to sit at the front of the class. Our teacher spent most of her time distracted by the hand-wavers and trying to ferret out the slinkers, so I rarely was called on. When it did happen I’d squirm and fuss, and then mumble a few words. Sometimes I’d shake my head and shrug my shoulders in a perfect gesture of casual detachment, as if to say, “No, I don’t have the answer, but you already knew that.”
No matter how my teacher coaxed, I wouldn’t tell her the product of 3 x 8, or name the capital of Nebraska or spell “stitches” properly unless I was allowed to go to the blackboard. If I was chosen to go to the board, I worked the arithmetic problems or spelled the words without difficulty. My performance was so erratic she began to call on me more often - sometimes telling me to stay in my seat, and sometimes asking me to go to the board.
One day, she asked me to stay after school. I was terrified. I knew a few kids who’d been detained after school, and my parents wouldn’t be happy for me to be included in that group. As it turned out, I hadn’t done anything wrong. She only wanted a bit of privacy to ask me a question. “When there’s a problem on the board and I ask you to give me the answer from your seat, you seem to be guessing. But when you go to the blackboard, you always get it right. Can you tell me why?”
Of course I could tell her, and I did. I couldn’t read the blackboard from my desk. “Hm-ummm,” said my teacher, reaching for a pen. “I want you to take this note home to your parents…” (more…)