B average

This might be a story about mediocrity. Or maybe it’s about working hard to compensate for not being a genius. Then again, maybe it’s just about being middle-aged and feeling alienated by the expectations of a new world order.

This is just to say that I think a B is a good grade.

My 9th-grade English teacher was a short, plump woman with cropped black hair who wore orthopedic shoes. I couldn’t tell you how old she was because as far as I was concerned at the time, age became irrelevant after 30.

As soon as we met her, she told us we should consider dropping her class if we weren’t up for a challenge. There were easier English classes at the school, she said. My dark secret was that I wanted to be a writer, a real one, someday, so I told myself that I could handle anything an English class would throw my way.

Well, I did handle it, and I’m not too ashamed about the fact that I got Bs on some of those essays.

One time that teacher let us pick our seats based on our grades. The kids with the best grades got to choose first. I can’t remember if I had an A or B at the time, but I was the third person to choose a seat. The first was an uppity girl named Anne who I remember stated that she didn’t believe in grading on a curve.

“You should get the grade that you earn!” Anne told us.

I also got a B in my high school Creative Writing class.

On my report card, the teacher wrote: “Star, I would like to give you an A, but I don’t think I can. Good luck in journalism next year.”

I tried to figure out why that teacher wanted to give me an A, but could not. Maybe it was because I had carried on an on-again, off-again “relationship” (high schoolers love that word) with a boy in the class and we spent a fair amount of time tormenting each other in-person and through mutual friends. When we were “just friends,” I can recall him regaling us with stories of his sexual escapades with other girlfriends. On the days he was absent, his friends speculated that some of his stories were actually fictional.

Years after I graduated from high school, I was working at a local newspaper and the editors wanted us to write stories about people who had inspired us. One of the people I wrote about was that strict 9th-grade English teacher who had given me some Bs. I didn’t mention the Bs of course, because at the time, I thought Bs were normal and acceptable grades for all humans. This was before I became a teacher.

Not long after I wrote the story about being inspired by my former teacher, I did another story in which I referred to “gorilla warfare” – a mistake that slipped past my editors. Not knowing that the reporter who wrote it was a) one of his wife’s former students and b) one who had written a rather flattering article about her for the same paper, my former teacher’s husband called the newspaper’s editor and told him what a bunch of idiots we all were and that his wife would be appalled if she saw such a mistake in the newspaper. The editor didn’t know enough of the backstory to tell the guy that his wife had seen some of my mistakes before and it actually didn’t upset her too much.

What I know for sure is that you can be a person who sometimes earns Bs on writing assignments and still grow up to pay your bills by writing. I don’t recommend it, but it can be done. Also, you can be a person who earns Bs on writing assignments even if your teacher does not hate you. Even if you are one of her favorites and she is one of yours.

I know that much is true.


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