When I was in third grade, we would start off every math class with what was called a “white board challenge.” We would all have little personal dry erase boards, and our teacher, Mrs. Miller, asked a few simple math questions that we would answer on our white boards. Our answers weren’t really graded per say (do third graders even get grades?), but she would make a point of walking around the room to look at who was getting the answers right and who was getting them wrong. Now I was by no means a math genius, not even by third grade standards. I’d consider myself to be in the middle of the pack- not showing off, not falling behind. I always enjoyed the white board challenges regardless, partially because white boards were fun to play with as a third grader (or maybe I just matured late), and partly because it made math… well not fun, but certainly more bearable. Unfortunately, after an incident occurring only a few months into the school year that all changed.
There’s a few things you need to know about Mrs. Miller. She was your picturesque old, strict, elementary school teacher. She was the kind of teacher that even the other teachers avoided. That’s not to say she was mean or nasty, in fact most of the time she was quite pleasant. She just has no tolerance for shenanigans of any sort and does not hesitate to shut down any and all misbehavior. When that happened, you were always glad to not be on the receiving end. The incident started with a white board challenge like any other. The details are hazy after all this time, but some time as Mrs. Miller was asking her second or third question, pacing around the room viewing boards, taking mental notes of was right and who was wrong, when I realized I made a mistake. No worries though, the beauty of a white board was how easy it is to erase and fix anyway. A quick smudge of the finger and rewrite, and I was cruising towards a rare 3/3. But on Mrs. Miller’s second lap around, she stopped behind me and glared down.
Before I even could comprehend what was going on, I found myself the victim of a Mrs. Miller tirade. She kept going on and on about academic integrity, and how you never learn by cheating, and how cheaters always get caught, and for some reason mentioning me by name. Then she asked me how I got my answer, to which I replied that I made a mistake and fixed it. As a result, I was now not only a cheater but a liar! “The last time I looked at your board you had the wrong answer and were on a new problem, and now all of a sudden you just happened to fix it? While also working on additional exercises? I also happened to notice both students sitting next to you had the correct answer. Are you telling me you did not see their boards and fix your answer?” After repeatedly denying all of these allegations, and tearful that my hard work and rare success was going to be discredited, the incident ended with a simple, “James, it is one thing to make a mistake, but lying is simply not tolerated in this class room.” And with that, she took my white board, wiped the answers away, took my marker, and continued with the last question. It was absolutely devastating. Now I wasn’t the type of third grader who would escape to the bathroom and bawl his eyes out for getting yelled at by a teacher, but if I was, that might have happened.
If I could have dinner with anyone in the world, I would track down Mrs. Miller and love the chance to catch up. I would cook a nice meal, nothing too fancy, and invite my old teacher over to talk. I would be incredibly polite, ask her how she got into teaching, if she liked it, what she has been doing since, etc. I have no doubt she’d be confused and most likely never really remember me. At least not until she sees the evil, sly grin on my face. She’d continue to rack her brains, maybe a little worried at my expression now, especially as she noticed my full, untouched plate compared to her almost barren one. Then it would all click. Just as the undercooked meat of my homemade dinner started a ferocious battle with her digestive system, I would savor the look of terrified recognition that had taken over. As she jumped up and raced to her car, furious and cursing, I would laugh and savor the moment. Justice.
Disclaimer: Mrs. Miller is a fictional name