In fifth grade, I was a bad student. Okay, I was also a bad student in first, second, third, fourth, and sixth grades. It wasn’t until the summer before seventh grade that I hit puberty and my brain started working. But fifth grade stands out for me because of the failing grade I got on my Washington D.C. report.
The assignment was pretty simple. We were being taught how to write reports, because we were told that we’d be writing them left and right in the sixth grade. Our teacher, Mrs. Butler, brought us to the library and taught us how to use the card files to find books on our subjects so we could fill out little note cards with random facts to include in our reports. This was way before kids did research online and plagiarized to their heart’s content. We had to plagiarize the old-school way.
And even though we were given time in class to do the work, I didn’t. I have no idea what I did instead. I just know that I didn’t do anything on the report. I didn’t do research. I didn’t make note cards. I didn’t write a single word. And I didn’t hand in anything when it was due.
Being a good teacher, Mrs. Butler called my parents and extended an educational fig leaf. I was going to be allowed to make up the report. But I was going to do it during Spring Break (capitalized because to kids, Spring Break is a holy week). And the best part of the deal was this: no matter how awesome my work was, the highest grade I was going to earn was 60/100, which is still a failing grade (though it was 60 points higher than my original score, which was 0).
And being the good parents that they were, my folks agreed to the deal.
I hated that Spring Break. I didn’t even get to see the sun. I did the research, note-card writing, and report writing in the basement. By the time the thing was written, I was pretty proud of it. I was sure that Mrs. Butler would be amazed by my paper, her hard heart would melt, and I would get full credit. I mean, having to stay inside for a whole week when I could have been out riding my bike or building Lego stuff or whatever else was not writing a report, was a pretty good punishment in itself.
But no, I did not get full credit. I got 60 points, which affected my overall grade a lot less, and enabled me to move on satisfactorily to the sixth grade.
Now, all these years later, I remember that Spring Break better than any others. I learned not just about Washington D.C., but about the value of hard work, even when the best your hard work will get you is 60 out of 100 points. Also, I learned that if I would have just done the stupid report when I was supposed to, I could have avoided all that pain in the first place.