I was just recently reminded of an incident that happened when I was in the 4th grade. As with most of my childhood stories, it starts with me starting at a new school. I was sitting in my new English class and my teacher had just introduced me to the class. He went on to tell me that there was a book report due the following week. He said it was an oral report and not only was it an oral report, but the students had to dress up as a character from their book while delivering their report. With a smile he told me that, because I was new, I could just turn in a paper and not worry about the oral part or dressing up.
The first week at a new school was always the hardest. I like to think of it in terms of talking about my wife. When I talk about my wife I hate using the term, “my wife.” It’s like she is a possession or something, like, “my car.” When I first meet someone I do a quick calculation of whether I will be talking to the person on the regular or not. If not, it remains, “my wife.” If I am going to talk to them again it becomes, “My wife, her name,” and over time it becomes just, “her name.” When you are new everyone one is at, “her name,” and I’m stuck trying to figure out why they keep referring to some woman as only, “her name.”
I took the oral report as a challenge. I was just finishing a book about pirates so I decided I was going to show up the following Wednesday in the best pirate costume he’d ever seen and deliver an amazing report. I spent the next week creating an amazing costume. I didn’t have any friends so I spent every waking hour making my costume and practicing my speech. My Mom indulged me, taking me to thrift stores to get old clothes I could tear up and dirty for my costume.
I climbed on the bus the next Wednesday in torn-up dirty brown pants, a puffy shirt, blacked out teeth, an eye patch and shoes that didn’t match. Looking back, it really was an amazing costume. What I failed to realize was the teacher was a bit of a joker. While he was on a first name basis with my wife, I didn’t know him from Adam. So when I made it to English class I was greeted with hushed tones and wide eyes. The teacher didn’t acknowledge me. He didn’t even look my way when he said, “Please pass your book reports to the front of the class.”
All I had was an outline and some notes scrawled on what looked like a weathered treasure map, but I sent it forward anyway. He then went on with that day’s lesson. He must have felt bad because I got an “A” on my report. There weren’t any corrections or comments, just a big red “A.” I learned alot that day, mostly to keep a spare change of clothes near… just in case.