I haven’t once even remotely regretted throwing away my high school report cards.
I revisited them a few times after bailing on school (a few months shy of graduating) but reading them inspired neither laughter nor nostalgia so eventually I threw them out.
Those, plus a few old tests and exams (testament to my lousy study skills), and some poorly shaded still life drawings of wine bottles and apples on dusty, brittle paper.
I remember tossing them deep (and I mean DEEP) into the black bin that leant against the pebble dash exterior of my parents’ house. You know, to reduce the odds of someone (most likely my mom) salvaging them.
I didn’t want them coming back to haunt me.
Of course, little did I know that while I was successful in sealing the fate of these particular report cards, the ones from my primary school days were still alive and well and lurking. And, my parents probably thought, sure to bring a smile to my face.
Wrong. They didn’t. They spurred outrage.
OK, so there’s outrage and outrage. The really serious kind (like when you find out someone’s cheated on you or boiled your bunny) and the less serious kind (like when you find out your old school principal was a dick).
This was the less serious kind but still serious enough to cause my jaw to drop as I swept my eyes over a few choice words before saying “Fuck you, Mr. Tether” in front of my mother (who never swears, by the way) before taking the first sip of my morning coffee.
My elementary school report book has a faded blue cover.
In a very dated sans serif font it reads: LONDON BOROUGH OF BARNET EDUCATION COMMITTEE, SUMMERSIDE JUNIOR SCHOOL.
The inside pages are a dirty white colour. The penmanship is extremely legible, as was common back in the days of handwriting.
I opened up the booklet to a random spread, three-quarters of which are covered in blue ink. I gravitated towards the remaining quarter, which is full of black ink. Thick black ink. Clearly the work of a fountain pen. The Headmaster’s fountain pen. Mr. Tether’s assholery in writing.
First of all, Mr. Tether, you should have inserted a comma after the word “steadier.” Secondly, Mr. Tether, FUCK YOU! You don’t get to tell me who I SHOULD be.
Did I mention I was 10 years old when he wrote that comment?
I was livid.
Mom tried to redirect my attention towards the thin blue ink where my primary school teacher had written nice things like “enjoys creative dramatics” and “tries to help other children” amid a few references to “chattering.” (Some things never change.) I was having none of it though. I flipped to the previous page. (I always flip from back to front. Is it just me?)
Up next …
Chatter less. Blah blah blah. The story of my life. But pity? Seriously? Mr. Tether’s final word for my entire performance that semester was …PITY? I was nine years old.
You know what’s a pity to me? It’s that Mr. Tether wrote those words without considering the impact they’d have on me. Not just from reading them myself but from having to hand them over to my parents. Good but strict parents who no doubt sat me down for a talk about how I should really try and do better next semester, because this semester, well, my lack of concentration was a pity.
But wait. There’s more.
I am eight years old.
One month older than the average class age of seven years and 11 months. I think about my daughter Anna, now 20. I picture her at eight and think about what I wanted most for her back then. Above all, it was this:
Don’t be so hard on yourself, kiddo.
Honestly, that’s what I wanted for her. I believed that if she could reduce the enormous expectations she had of herself, she would love and believe in herself more and that’s what I wanted for her above all else. A clearly different agenda to Mr. Tether’s.
Granted, he was my principal, not my mom. But didn’t he want me to believe in myself, too? Perhaps, but more pressing was this. He wanted me to have … wait for it… more drive.
No word of a lie. This is what he write to eight-year-old me:
Because high school and university aren’t pressure enough, let’s kick things off early, shall we? Park your curiosity, kids. You’re in junior school know. Time to hone that drive.
Oh, Mr. Tether. I have only one word for how these comments make me feel as I ponder them at the age of 55.
Not as in shame on me. Not as in shame on you, although you shouldn’t be proud of this. But shame that your comments ever found their way into my malleable young mind.
That is the biggest shame because I am certain that, as I grew older and received put-downs that I should have been able to dismiss with the flick of a hand or an attitude-packed “whatever,” I took them on board. Why? Because I’d heard them before. I was familiar with their disappointed tone. Your tone. I wish you’d been the more responsible person you should have been.
Viv for Today xo
P.S. About the title … I don’t know if Mr. Tether is alive or not, so just in case …