Photo by Orlando Pelagio
As an elementary school student, I was on fire.
At an early age though, I also understood that I was controlling and full of myself. In first grade, I was the annoying kid who raised their hand to read just so I could show off the fact that I had been practicing at home in my room, devouring all of the Roald Dahl books I could find at the school library. It’s what landed me the role of ‘Narrator’ in our first grade production of The Great Kapok Tree. By second grade I solidified my role as teacher’s pet and became the adoptive child of my favorite teacher, Mrs. Winston. She was everything to me. She taught me all about other cultures and religions, including her Jewish family traditions. Her life seemed so much more fascinating than my boring Christian household.
But in third grade, I wanted to fit in with the other kids. When my teacher told me that I was excelling at a fifth grade reading level, I tried to play dumb. I was put in the reading group with all the other annoying know-it-alls and I was not about it. My people are the real people. Why was I being lumped in with the stuck up and snooty quiet children? I was rambunctious and restless. I was a talker. No one in my group wanted to talk. They actually wanted to read. Reading is not something I did with other people. It’s what I did in my room because I didn’t know how to play sports like the rest of the kids in my neighborhood. School time was my social time and these kids knew nothing about romantic comedies or Regis & Kathie Lee.
I had to act fast. So I traded in the fancy books my teacher gave me and focused only on Junie B. Jones books. I was trying to be relatable and show the cool kids I was “just like them.” Fast-forward eighteen years later and now it’s clear my reading and writing skills have plateaued at a fifth-grade level. That’s the price of becoming popular.
By fourth grade I joined the writing club and the chess team just so I could maintain some recognition from the literary crowd. I balanced out my reputation by being really good at one playground activity: kick board. This garnered enough attention from various groups to elect me for Student Council. I was elected secretary but convinced this girl who was obsessed with me to take notes for me. I was more…how you say, “an ideas person”?
In fifth grade, I was placed in a fifth/sixth grade combo class. I don’t know if it was for fifth graders who needed to be challenged or for sixth graders who needed to catch up, but either way it was a ball of fun and my teacher was a loud and proud hippy. She will always have a place in my heart. This was the year I excelled in scene re-enactments from That’s So Raven. My performances were unsolicited, unrequested and unwanted. But alas, life is but a stage am I right?
Which brings me to the final installment of elementary school: sixth grade. Ah, I had arrived. I knew the people, I was the people. I entered the year without enemies or beefs with anyone. I would soon find out though, that my true enemy would be my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Parsons.
The jig is up…
My goal in life is never to take over everything and run everything but boy, it sure was a rush to be trusted with responsibilities! As I saw a need for leadership in our class, I was the first one to jump in. Before I knew it, I was editor-in-chief of our class newspaper, running and organizing Open House, becoming Teacher of the Day twice and grading papers for my teacher while she “caught up on emails.” I was also the organizer of people’s messes (if I could go back in time, I would tell my 11-year-old self, “stop fixing other people or you’re gonna grow up to fix all the men in your life”) and cleaned/styled the desks of my classmates. One of the perks I experienced while cleaning other people’s desks was peeking into their diaries, but of course that was only for the students who were less than smart enough to bring their diaries to school. I did discover a very special girl had a crush on me. Once she found out I read her diary though that crush no longer existed. What was I gonna do with it anyways? (HAHA)
In the midst of leading classroom activities and organizing school potlucks by creating and sending home flyers of what to bring (I literally taught myself how to create checkboxes in Word), I slowly started to realize my teacher lowkey had it out for me. One would think that because I was her most helpful student, she would love me and have no reason to be passive aggressive, but alas, this would be the first of several teachers in my life who enjoyed seeing me fall apart. While the other ‘boys’ in school got away with talking out of turn, farting in class (loudly) and saying rude things to girls, they received the “boys will be boys” pass. But for me, this was not the case. Mrs. Parsons would frequent the crosswalk in which my mother guarded (one morning two years prior my mom said SURPRISE and was suddenly our school crossing guard and yard duty) just to tell her how much of a distraction I was in class. Funny coming from someone who had me teaching the class for two days. Interesting. (And yes, I created a full lesson plan with lovely activities).
“Hi Shelly, just wanted to let you know Robert took a piece of scotch tape, rolled it up and threw it at a boy in class.”
Well that boy deserved it. He was saying ignorant things.
“Hi Shelly, just wanted to let you know Robert sneezes really loud and it’s starting to seem like he’s doing it in a dramatic way on purpose to get attention from the other students.”
Yes, I’m dramatic. So sue me.
The visits came and came often. But here’s what really killed me. Every year in elementary school, I was awarded at least ten student certificates, earned through classroom participation, student council achievements, writing projects, taking part in cafeteria clean-up, getting good grades, etc. Most of the awards were nominated by teachers. Students who earned 10 in a year got to have lunch with the principal. He would take all the students out of class for McDonald’s which at the time was EVERYTHING. My mom and dad didn’t play with the fast food mess so it was my one chance. I thought for sure with all the work I had done that I would make ten in sixth grade. But alas, Mrs. Parsons was not down for the cause and made sure that I didn’t get that lunch extravaganza.
The ultimate scam. My first major run-in with a true scammer. Well played, Mrs. Parsons, well played.
(OK but really though I’m cackling at the fact that I shared this story with such passion)
* * *
Now looking back, I wonder if I really was a problem child in school and Mrs. Parsons’ way of handling me was by putting me in charge of things that involved me talking and communicating with other students. Perhaps she knew my skills were better suited in telling people what to do. Perhaps not granting me 10 certificates for the year wasn’t personal at all and I really just needed to learn that not everything is about me and excellence isn’t always rewarded. And maybe the reason Mrs. Parsons came and talked to my mother so much was because she knew I was different from the other boys and wanted to be involved somehow in making sure I wasn’t acting out for the wrong reasons.
Or…perhaps Mrs. Parsons was the first person to show me that people will take advantage of you and your innate inclinations to help and take care of others and project their own issues on to sensitive souls. Perhaps she knew what to do to get me to handle things for her and the classroom, leveraging my supreme work ethic and desire to succeed. Maybe it was a foreshadowing to help me cut out those types of people in my life, and find validation and strength within myself.
One can never truly know. After all, it happened so long ago.
xoxo Robby Rob