Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Setting the Record Straight

Way back in the olden days of 10th grade, my English teacher Mrs. Ohlsson accused me of cheating on our final exam. She was also the drama teacher, and had a reputation for being bitchy, moody, a little crazy and weird. Sounds par for the course for a drama teacher.

Up until this point, I actually kinda liked her. I could identify with bitchy, moody, crazy and weird. She didn't fit the mold of the other teachers and I didn't fit the mold of other students. . She wore big crazy scarves, and shoes that resembled those we all saw adorning the feet of the witch squashed by Dorothy's house. She wasn't the typical teacher shopping at Talbots -- perhaps she got some salvage from the costume rooom? I don't know. She was an odd combination of 80s-gypsy-Fame-wicked witch. Whatever that is.

So I liked this strange character, and I actually learned from her. She taught me a lot about writing for your audience and with a purpose. (Although it may seem, as you read this, that those lessons fell on deaf ears.) Honestly, she did her job so I guess overall the good outweighed the bad. But, I still haven't forgotten that she accused me of something I didn't do, and I'm not sure what reminded me of this, but decided to spend a minute setting the record straight.

The day before the test, she gave us the essay questions that would appear on the test. We'd have to pick one or two, and write. Simple enough. My brain churned, planning the whole essay in my head so I wouldn't be stuck with writer's block during the test. I did this kind of thing in college too ... preparing and researching without ever writing a thing until I knew what I'd write. Then in one fell swoop I'd bang out my 40 page term paper in 2 hours. The rest of the time I would spend editing. I always found editing to be most time-consuming.

So anyway, I'd prepared in my head and the next day took the test. Once the test started, I quickly tore a piece of paper out of my blue book, and downloaded my planned essay from my brain to the scrap paper. I edited, then when I was satisfied with my essay I copied it into my blue book and turned in my test.

Later at home, I answered the phone and it was Mrs. Ohlsson asking to speak to my mother. My mom picked up on another phone, but I lurked. Apparenty, I dropped the scrap paper with my draft essay on the ground and Mrs. Ohlsson found it.I remember feeling all of the blood rush out of my head and waves of anger running through my body as I heard her tell my mother "I'm sorry to tell you that Lisa cheated on her English exam." My mother was still asking questions when I hung up, sitting completely stunned in our kitchen, contemplating how this woman could possibly think I'd actually cheat.

I had NOT cheated on my test. In fact, I never cheated on a test my entire life. I never cared more about my test grade than the consequences of getting caught. First, it would draw attention to me (my worst fear in my high school years). Second, and maybe worse --- it would go on my Permanent Record. Yes, I was successfully brainwashed into believing all humans have a Permanent Record where every transgression is documented, following you on job interviews, dates, and everything ... for the rest of your life.

Over the next day or so, Mrs. Ohlsson gave me an "opportunity" to explain, but refused to believe me. She had no proof, but neither did I. My parents have never been the kind of people who refused to believe their little baby Disco Bubbles was infallible, but in this instance they stood by me.

All said and done, I was docked 2 letter grades for the (non)incident -- so I got a "C" on my essay. Bitch. I never forgot about that. Aside from accusing me of something I didn't do, I was equally bothered by the fact that she couldn't get her big crazy blonde head around the fact that I might actually be smart enough to have studied, planned and done a good job.


Sandi said...

It's so sad when teacher's do things like this to students.

I always got a kick out of the story about my favorite young adult author, S.E. Hinton. She wrote The Outsiders for an English class her junior year of high school and received a "D" for it.

That book is still being studied today in middle school all across the country. That teacher must feel like a real asshole.

Rick R. said...

Wow, thanks for sharing this story. I remember Mrs. Ohlsson pretty well, having her for English (temporarily) and being in a play one year, and your characterization is spot on. Once she made up her mind, she held fast to her opinion. Often vigorously. I'll take this as very good lesson NOT to jump to conclusions when dealing with mt teenager...

Julie C. said...

You're not alone. I remember Mrs. Ohlsson well, too -When she came back into the room after her maternity leave and asked if everyone missed her, I swear you could hear the crickets chirping. To this day I can't think of that class without my lip curling in disgust. She DID teach me how to write ("Keep sight of your thesis, Julie!"), but memory of her attitude lasted just as long.

Los said...

I was always afraid of cheating too ... although I did cheat on a social studies test in 7th grade ... and sadly, got caught (taught me a lesson - never cheated after that)>

Anonymous said...

I had completly forgotten about Mrs. O until now. You discribed her PERFECTLY!! How could I have forgotten those scarves?? Glad you held your ground. Even though she docket your grade You knew the truth and she couldn't take that away.


Lisa said...

Sandi -- I love "The Outsiders" but never knew that story.

Rick & Julie & Heather -- Ahh, it's like a "we survived the crazy lady" thing! Thanks for stopping by my blog!!

Kal -- I can NOT picture you cheating on a test. Even once.


gwen jackson said...

That totally sucks. It must have been painful to be accused of cheating after you worked so hard. That sort of thing would eat away at me too. And for what it's worth, I don't think her writing instruction "fell on deaf ears". You are an awesome writer :)