Annie loved school and couldn’t wait for the new year to begin. She was going to be a third grader, and taking the long walk up the stairs into the old part of the school. At the door of the classroom was the list of students and seating assignments. It was easy to find her seat. She was surrounded by old friends: Karen, Becky, the smartest girl in her class, and Cathy, Becky’s best friend. This was the class with all the bright kids. It was never stated that way, but everyone knew it to be true.
Her new teacher was Mrs. Rinehart. She was so much younger that Mrs. Wright, Annie’s second grade teacher, and Annie knew from the outset that she would probably like her just as much. For Annie, teachers were higher life-forms, and she wanted to stand out and please them. It was what her parents expected from her; that she would do her best work, always. However, it didn’t take long to realize that she didn’t like Mrs. Rinehart very much. The teacher seemed to like Becky and Cathy, but the rest of the class was reserved for criticism. She yelled at the class to work faster and harder especially in arithmetic, a subject that sometimes confounded even those who tried very hard to please.
Within a few weeks, Mrs. Rinehart rearranged the class seats. Annie no longer sat beside Karen; she now sat across from Carol Ann. When Mrs. Rinehart wanted papers graded, she always exchanged her paper with Carol Ann. Carol Ann usually made more mistakes than Annie until one fall afternoon.
In her haste to get her arithmetic assignment done before Mrs. Rinehart started yelling at the class to finish up, Annie had overlooked a crucial part of her work. They were adding numbers, but not ordinary numbers. These were amounts of money. Annie did the math, but neglected to put the dollar signs on her answers. In fact, she had consistently forgotten the dollar sign on each of the thirty problems.
As Mrs. Rinehart went over the first answer, Carol Ann raised her hand. “Yes, Carol Ann,” she said.
“Annie didn’t put the dollar sign in front of her answer…does that mean it’s wrong?” Carol Ann asked.
“Of course, mark it wrong because it’s supposed to be there,” the teacher replied.
With the next answer, the same thing occurred. At this point, Mrs. Rinehart grabbed Annie’s paper from Carol Ann. She called Annie to the front of the class. With her red pencil, she slashed a red line through each and every problem. “Wrong, wrong, wrong!” she berated. With each slash, Annie’s pale, freckled face became redder and redder in embarrassment. It was all Annie could do to watch as Mrs. Rinehart marked up her paper. She knew every kid was staring at her. What’s worse she knew that they were laughing at her although the classroom was silent except for Mrs. Rinehart’s continued, “Wrong!” As she stood there, looking down at her feet, she resolved to herself that she would not break into tears for that would have been the final humiliation. Every student looked on as Annie was humiliated beyond belief, yet all were silently congratulating themselves that they hadn’t done the unthinkable, either.
For Annie, it was the first “F” (zero) that she ever received. Not only that, but she had to take it home, face her parents, and and do it over. She knew that her parents would punish her for it, but surprisingly, they did not. They did, however, check over her work, but she didn’t forget any of the dollar signs. Nor, afterwards, did she ever!
(It’s nearly summertime, and thus time for re-runs…this was first posted on Red Room several years ago, but because of surgery, keyboarding is limited.)