Monday, September 29, 2014

The Guilty Sixth Grader

I adored my sixth grade teacher.  Other than my family, I had never been so close to another person in my life.  Prematurely gray, Mrs. Kennedy was only in her late twenties, early thirties.  She hailed from Big Rock Candy Mountain country, which excited my young mind.  After all, they’d written a song about that, and images from Roald Dahl’s book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory filled my young mind.

I spent most all of my recesses helping her with paperwork and running the mimeograph machine.  I learned more from her out of the classroom than in.  She was one of the first teacher’s to assess her student’s ability and then grade them on their personal achievement. 

Not being extremely athletic, she taught me to never get discouraged.  To start from where you are and improve yourself, never worry about what everyone else can do.  Being teased and called “teacher’s pet” was well worth the harassment because I hung on every word she said and wanted to grow up to be just like her.  The year was one of the happiest I had lived in my short eleven years.

I hated the idea of leaving her and moving on to a new school, but there again, Mrs. Kennedy talked me through my fears and built my self-confidence to move forward.

It was the second to the last day of school.  Mrs. Kennedy asked me to stay after school and help with the report cards.  We worked together as she manually transferred each student’s grades into their report card.  I read them, she wrote them. (Hey, it was long before computers.)  After we were done, we triple checked them to make sure they were accurate.  She told me not to tell anyone their grades, and I promised her I wouldn’t.

The next day was the end of the year party. I felt confident, proud, and ready to face the next phase of my life.  We had this horrible red punch and icky little tasteless cookies to celebrate.  Mrs. Kennedy was out of the classroom a lot that day. 

One of the popular, athletic girl’s approached me.  “Hi, Cindy.”

“Hi, Donna.”

“I hear you helped Mrs. Kennedy with the grades.”

“Yes, I did.”  I was feeling very important as I watched all of Donna’s friends huddled in a group, watching us.

“What did I get?”

“I can’t tell you that, Donna.”

“Why not?  We’re gonna get our report cards at the end of the day.”

“Sorry, I can’t tell you.  Mrs. Kennedy asked me not to.”

It didn’t end there.  Donna continued to drill me for her grades.  I didn’t want to be rude.  After all, she was actually talking to me.  Donna.  This moment could make or break my future.  She joined her friends and then returned again.

“So you can’t tell me?” she said.

“No.  Sorry.”

“What about your grades?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, surely you know what you got.”

I nodded.

“So what did you get?”

That question threw me for a loop.  “No. I better not say.”

“Why?” she pressed.  “Did she tell you not to tell that either?”  She looked back at her friends.

Mrs. Kennedy had only told me not to tell anyone else their grades.  What would it matter?  Our report cards would be given to us at the end of the day before we got on the bus.  What could it hurt?  And if I could make a friend out of Donna, I would be sitting pretty for junior high next year.

I smiled.  “I got all A’s,” I said, proudly.

She frowned.  Why was she frowning?

“You?  You got an A in P.E.?”

She took off in a heated flash out of the classroom.  The next thing I knew, Mrs. Kennedy and the principal were there and calling me out of the classroom.  Mrs. Kennedy looked terribly upset. I took a deep, pained breath, closed my eyes for a few seconds and then crept out into the hall behind them.

My throat was thick and my stomach paralyzed.  I kept replaying in my mind what had just happened, wishing I could go back and have kept my mouth shut. I wanted to crawl under a rock.

“How could you?” Mrs. Kennedy said, fire and tears in her eyes.

I stared at my shoes and pinched my arms to keep the tears from coming.  My chin quivered and sweat broke out on my palms. “I-I-I didn’t tell Do--.”

“I can’t believe you’ve done this,” Mrs. Kennedy said.

I didn’t understand what I had done, exactly, and no one was explaining.  I only knew that guilt filled my heart at the expression in her eyes.  It was all my fault.  Whatever I had done or said, had hurt the person I adored.

I don’t remember what else was said out in the hall.  My mind was filled with self-loathing and embarrassment as everyone stared out the door at me.  The buses came, the report cards were handed out, and Mrs. Kennedy refused to speak to me as I left that day.  She actually turned her back toward me.

A whole wonderful year ended traumatically by four little words, “I got all A’s.”

Of course, the event scarred my future no matter what my parents tried to tell me.  At times, I felt angry at Mrs. Kennedy and felt that she could have handled the situation better.  After all, she graded everyone on their own progress.  I might not have been as good as Donna at sports, but I had made considerable progress during the year.  Why hadn’t Mrs. Kennedy just said that?  Why wouldn’t she listen to me? Why had she refused to speak to me?  Why didn’t she see that I felt that I hadn’t broken a promise?  Why didn’t she see that I was an eleven year old girl you adored her?

I wonder what she would think to know that, in my fifties, this harrowing experience still brings tears to my eyes and affects my relationships.

I adored you, Mrs. Kennedy, and I never got to say thank you and goodbye.     

Cindy A. Christiansen
Sweet Romance, Humor, Suspense...and Dogs!
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