“You’re not going to graduate high school.”
Her voice had weight. The words fell like lead weights on The Kid’s head.
I have watched you waste a year of my time; I have watched you waste it all away, and now you are going to pay the price; you are not going to graduate.”
The Kid hung his head, a sheepish, somewhat morose look on his face. He knew that this time she wasn’t threatening him. She meant business. He looked out a window, ashamed to look at her.
She stepped between him and the window, and her eyes locked on his. This time he didn’t move away.
“You test in the top 1% of all kids in the state. I know you’re not stupid – in fact, you are one of the smartest kids I have ever had in my classroom. That’s what makes this so infuriating to me. You are challenged by nothing except your own dumb-ass behavior. You have no excuses, no disabilities. You have every advantage, and you don’t care. You don’t care about anything!”
The teacher’s words were acidic, heavy with finality. Her tone and her words were akin to a judge about to render sentence but first reminding the convict of the crime.
It took until this precise moment for The Kid to realized that he messed up, and it was real, and it was happening.
He had zero words. He met her cold stare, feeling the weight of her words, his expression changing from morose to maudlin. What was he going to tell his parents? How could he face his friends? What would he do on that sunny, sticky summer day in May when all of the “normal” kids were conferred diplomas?
“You fucked up, kid. You failed the most basic achievement the world asks a child to do. You’re not going to college, you’re not going to be successful, and you are probably going to smoke and drink your life away. You failed, and I have never been more disappointed in anyone as I am in you.”
The weight of the words were more than his head could hold. The words caused him to drop his shoulders and sink in his chair.
The Kid hated that the teacher was right. He had nothing; nothing to react to, nothing and no one to deflect blame on. Because he wasn’t stupid, he finally understood how right she was.
She sat down, facing him now across a small table.
The teacher sat down for the longest, stillest, quietest five minutes. The Kid was paralyzed. It seemed like 12 hours. The venom in her voice had rendered him a pitiful lump, defenseless.
She got up, walked to her desk, and grabbed a piece of paper and two pencils.
The teacher wrote for a few minutes, and pushed the paper across the table, like a negotiator proffering a settlement offer to a lawyer. She pushed it in front of him.
There were ten questions on the paper.
“This is your final. Take it.”
The kid raised his head slowly, grabbed the pencil and started writing.
Three minutes later, he finished. Silent, he pushed the paper back across the table, like a car buyer revealing “the number” to the dealer in the finance department.
He got nine out of ten right.
The teacher checked the test, wrote an A- on the top of the page, and threw it back at him.
“You just graduated high school. I never want to see you again. Get out of here.”
April 11, 2012: The Kid called the high school, asked for the teacher. The receptionist transferred the call.
“Hey, it’s me. I wonder if you remember…”
She howled in laughter.
“You little red-haired SOB! Is that you?”
He loved her tone, her take-no-prisoners vocabulary. She was well read and well-educated, but her words were populist. He always loved it, even back then.
They retraced 30 years in 5 minutes, catching up rapidly.
“I want to tell you a story-you probably don’t remember – my last day of school.”
“I don’t. Tell me.”
He recounted the last time he saw her, that final day, when she administered that test.
“There isn’t a day that goes by when I do not remember what you did for me. I heard you are retiring at the end of this school year, and I wanted you to know, before you go… how grateful I am to you. You literally saved my life. And now, I too am a teacher.
Thank you, Deb.”
Her voice was weightless now. They were as light as a feather, her words as light as a whisper, lingering in the air, delicate and tender.
” Oh, I love that story. You’re going to make me cry. I am so proud of you, John Scott.”
“Thanks for the push, Teacher.”
John Scott is indeed a teacher now – a media studies instructor and the career services manager for the School of Multimedia Communications, Academy of Art University San Francisco. Check out his book,“Destination: Reinvention”, on sale now in the Amazon bookstore.