When I was ten we moved to England. I had just completed fourth grade in the US and was excited and nervous about starting school in a new country. Upon arrival, I was tested and did poorly on the math, French and Latin portions of the entrance test. What??? I was great at math…how could this be? Well, back in 1968 the British monetary system was still base 12, rather than base 10 (decimal) used in the US. So, I needed to learn how to count monetarily in base 12.
The long and short of it was that I was put back
in the British equivalent of fourth grade. I was embarrassed but it was what it was. Our “forms” as they called grade levels in England, all had the names of ships. I started out in HMS Valiant. The form COLOR was yellow. (Not that any of this matters, but it is ingrained in my brain.)
Within about six weeks, I had successfully demonstrated my mastery of the British monetary system and I was promoted to the British equivalent of fifth grade. In my school, this form was known as HMS Courageous. Our form COLOR was light blue.
Another month or so went by, and I, being the stellar student that I was, was promoted again, this time to the British equivalent of sixth grade. In my school, this form was known as HMS Vanguard. The form COLOR was dark purple/blue. But the interesting point here is that this was my older sister’s form. She was NOT happy to see her twit sister in the same grade as she!
One day we were given an assignment to write an essay on “Night Noises”. We had the weekend to write it, turning in our literary offering Monday morning. There was never a threat of our cheating by sharing even an idea. We belonged staunchly to the opposite ends of the spectrum and cordial communication was not part of our repertoire!
On Monday morning we each turned in our assigned essays, and went about the business of everyday class schedules. Later in the week, our papers graded and returned, the teacher began calling students to the front of the room to share their essay with the class. My sister, always a great writer, was one who was called to share. She read her essay aloud, and it was beautiful…she wrote of owls and crickets, wind and rain and all with such creativity, I was struck with the beauty of her words….I was also struck with the realization that I had misunderstood the assignment. Now, let me mention, the teacher did not write our grade on our paper, so we had no idea how well we had scored, only the grammar errors and the teachers “comments.”
I was about the fifth student called to read my essay. All who went before me had understood the assignment…I was SOOO embarrassed. If I could have stood up there and just made up my essay on the spot, I would have, but the teacher had already read and graded mine. She KNEW what I had written and was now clearly relishing the fact that I was going to have share with the WORLD (OK 20 students) my failure to understand the assignment.
While I don’t recall the exact words, I can tell you the “night noises” I wrote of had to do with baths running, toilets flushing, brothers talking, parents telling brothers to be quiet, dog snoring, cat purring, monkey rattling his cage….basically all the noises I heard in my house after the lights went out.
I got through my essay and rushed back to my seat. I took a quick peek at my sister to see how mad she was, because I was ALWAYS a source of embarrassment to her. She looked ready to DIE. Other students read their essays and then the teacher addressed the class. She told us our grades. All had scored pretty well, except me. I had scored 100%. She explained to the class that the difference between my essay and the others was that I THOUGHT like a writer. I LISTENED like a writer, and I WROTE with honesty. She explained the benefit of looking at assignments from a different perspective. She said that it was this perspective that made the reader INTERESTED in the essay.
Well, of course I couldn’t win. This made my sister mad too!
I was glad when, the following year, we each went to different schools. I am certain she was pleased with that choice as well!