When I was in fifth grade I had a teacher that I’ll call Mrs. B. I never liked that Mrs. B. She had a bountiful head of curly thick hair that she never really quite seemed to know what to do with.
She always had a frown on her face. She was an unpleasant lady and that was hard for me to deal with – me who was bubbly and full of laughter and always looking to slightly entertain but be liked, too. Innately, I am a people pleaser. I love to bring joy – even if it is just a small slip of laughter to someone’s lips – and it was clear humor was not her thing. There was no way to penetrate her wall of bitchdom. And so, I just never liked Mrs. B.
There was a particular time we had to write a book report about a U.S. president. I always had a love for words and enjoyed anything involving reading and writing since I was absolutely terrible and horrified at math. My first real brush with daunting digits was in the first grade. My teacher Ms. Folks would ask me something like if I had 2 apples and Sally gave me 2 more, how many apples I would have. And I wondered who the hell told Sally I needed any apples? I was good with my two.
So anything revolving around English gave me relief. I honestly can’t remember if we were assigned or chose the topic, but I ended up with Thomas Jefferson. I went home and – these were the crazy days of encyclopedias – read any text I could find in the home on Thom.
I stayed up that evening writing my take on him, because again, this was my moment to shine and I took it very seriously. I turned in that book report on cloud nine because the encyclopedia didn’t do Thom any justice, and in my 10-year-old eyes, now the world was getting the proper version of Thom’s story.
I remember waiting to get my report back. Mrs. B. sat calling each student up one by one to her desk. I was simply glowing in my seat because I just knew there was going to be a big red “A” on it, maybe even a sticker. After all, perhaps there was still an ounce of kindness hidden somewhere inside her. And when she called my name and handed me my test, there was an “F” on it.
And I … I was devastated. I looked at the paper. I looked at Mrs. B. I looked at the paper and found the strength to look into her evil eyes and say, “Why did I get an F?”
“You can’t plagiarize, Natasha. There’s no way you wrote that report.” Those weren’t her exact words, I’m paraphrasing. This was more than 20 years ago and I’m lucky to remember who the report was about. But Mrs. B didn’t believe me, even when I told her I really did.
She simply cut me off mid-sentence in her old Mrs. B way and threatened to call my parents – which I wished she WOULD have done because they knew I was in the dining room that evening reading about Thomas Jefferson and construing the boring babble of the encyclopedia and turning it into a work of brilliant fifth grade art! Yet, she was telling me that it wasn’t mine, that I had copied, that I was a liar and a fraud.
She refused to change the grade and I fell back in my seat beaten but not defeated. My win came later in life.
I smile as I write this when I think of that wicked Mrs. B. She was the first person who validated my writing was better than I thought it was.