To most, the first Monday of each month usually isn't a memorable day that is tattooed or stamped onto the brain. Except in Mr. Brucio’s class, the first Monday was always the same. The same silent and eerie Monday that sent chills through my body. Mr. B, as usual, was walking around, passing out a paper that determined the fate of everyone’s ELA grade. Was I bound for an increased, lowered, or motionless grade? The thump of my heartbeat matched the tapping of his footsteps. Every one of my peers, including myself, appeared to make themselves look busy. Filling out their planner, meticulously organizing their folders, looking each and every way; making it a point to not come into eye contact with Mr. B’s neutral facial expression which was complimented by intensely dark bags under his eyes. He was always disappointed on these Mondays. Even if you were to tell him he was holding a winning lottery ticket, that wouldn’t change his mood. As his slow, echoing footsteps neared me, he slowly stretched out his arm to hand me my rubric with my distressed essay stapled to the back of it, turned upside down. I felt a sudden flash of heat, but I managed to, with sweaty palms, get a hold of the paper. It was in my hands now, damp from the uncontrollable moisture of my hands which slightly bled through the lined paper my essay was written on. It was in my hands; everything was in slow motion from that point on. When I turned the paper I was in disbelief and as I looked up, I saw a small grin on Mr. B’s face. I couldn’t help but think that this may be a different type of Monday.
Mr. Brucio’s 7th grade ELA class was simple. All a student had to do was pass a vocabulary quiz or periodically present to the class about an English related topic or participate in discussions. Overall, it was easy to manage, especially when a teacher like Mr. B made class enjoyable. The only downside was the seriousness of our monthly book reports. For our monthly book reports, we had to summarize, relate, and cite any book of our choice. Those book reports worked as an underlying assignment that we were expected to complete outside of class by independently reading a book of our choice. However, it was heavily weighted and made up the bulk of our grade. Whenever the reports were brought up Mr. B would turn into an entirely different person. There were countless times where he would emotionlessly say, “Your book reports are due this Friday. I will give you your graded rubric the first Monday of next month.”
I tried my best to sensor “book report” out of my vocabulary. I never was successful at those reports Mr. B assigned and he didn’t have a problem letting me know. He didn’t seem to be satisfied with my work and showed it by giving me a 38/50, time and time again. I was doing everything in my power to improve this score. I always found myself at my dining room table, sitting down with the rubric in hand while writing the report. With every minute of my polished pencil scraping my lined paper, there was quick erasing to go with it. I spent more time on this assignment than anything in a day. When I started the sun would expose itself to the fullest and when I was finished, or thought I was, the moon would selfishly share light. When I was finished it would be pitch black with cool air whooshing near my window. I went against my usual writing style and put so much effort into this one to show Mr. B I had grown as a writer and critical reader. I have never been the type of person to disagree with a grade since they are earned not given, but I felt like Mr. B was just giving me the same grade on my reports with no applicable feedback. And the amount of time and work I put into these reports were not reflected in this pitiful grade. In order for change to occur, I had to confront Mr. B head-on, like a car crash, which was something I didn’t usually do…
Although the process of creating these reports seemed bad, turning them in was even worse. Every Friday, I would break into a sweat. Butterflies would fill my stomach. My heart would pound, and my hands start to feel unpleasantly damp and sticky. I always found myself pacing back and forth, unable to sit in my chair with so much at stake. My peers frantically tried to pull their reports together, while timidly asking each other, “Did you do yours?” Then after my hands dry and I take just a couple more paces, I would build up the courage to finally drop my thin two-page report into the glossy-blue bin marked “Period 4: Book Report Turn-in.” My paper, which always stared at me with a doleful look, and I both knew it would receive the same 38/50 that was written in red ink and carefully placed on the top of my rubric.
…When Tuesday morning hit, I was struck with confusion, since I never confronted or
verbally disagreed with a teacher. That was just not me, so I didn’t know how to execute this plan. While I was sitting at my desk, barely listening to Mr. B rave about literary devices, I played out different scenarios in my head on how to address this unfamiliar situation:
Was I going to take the aggressive approach? Boldly saying, “Mr. B, why do I keep getting the same grade on my reports?” But no, I wouldn’t feel right afterward and that just wasn’t me.
What about the clueless approach? Act as if this was my first C on the reports by asking, “Mr. B was there something wrong with the last book reports I turned in?”
I was so desperate to get away from a 38/50, I even considered getting on my knees and desperately squealing, “Mr. B I can’t afford to get another C on my report! Is there anything I can do?” But none of the options I came up with sat well with me....
I just felt as though Mr. B was just handing out the same grades on my reports no matter what I did.
When the bell for lunch rang, which interrupted my thoughts, I saw everyone file out of the room like their lives depended on it. The time was now, as Mr. B was the only one in the classroom. The time was now, and I didn’t know what to say so I casually walked to Mr. B’s desk. He was eagerly getting ready for lunch too, like a kid at a candy shop. Setting up his desk and pulling out all the food he brought for lunch. This toned the confrontation down a bit, in my eyes, as I took a deep breath in and nervously asked him, “What…How can I…Am I missing something important in my b-b-book reports?”
He vaguely said, “Take another look at the rubric and you’ll find what you’re missing”.
“I-I-I follow the rubric every time I do the reports?” I responded. At the same time, I was thinking, “I knew the rubric like the back of my hand, so what was I missing?”
“Reread the rubric in its entirety and then write your book report.”
“Thanks,” I replied, with a frazzled look on my face.
Taking that advice from Mr. B was like trying to translate an unfamiliar language from scratch with no resources to help. I always made sure to have the rubric on my side while writing every report. I just didn’t understand what he was looking for.
Later in the month of April, the final book report was due. I tried to take Mr. B’s advice, but it wasn’t any help. I tried to look at the rubric in different ways to find the fine print that I was overlooking, but I saw nothing. I started to doubt myself as a writer in general. I did amazing on Mr. B’s other assignments, but maybe his standards were too high for these reports. Maybe I was just an average writer who earned the 38/50. Maybe he interpreted the rubric way differently than I did. Even though I never found out what I missed in those numerous book reports, I continued to do them, continued to receive a 38/50, and finished out the year with this last one.
It turned out many people just brushed off the book reports, which was probably due to Mr. B’s grading. It turned out that only about five people turned them in that month. That Monday was still a dreaded one, though, as the room was dead and there was nothing to enjoy. I expected another 38/50 and was down about it. “Robert,” he called. Mr. B’s rhythmic footsteps matched the energy of my heartbeat as he neared me in order to hand me my printed rubric. As the time slowed, I wiped the sweat from my forehead. My body boiled, as a flash of heat came across me. I received the rubric faced down, which was suspect of something less than the usual C. When I finally turned my rubric over, things did change that Monday. Mr. B’s blank stare turned into a grin, the once gloomy skies were filled with sunshine, and to my surprise, I received a 50/50 on my rubric with the comment, “Perseverance prevails!” After seeing this, I was relieved and could not keep myself from grinning along with him.
Robert Elkins is a senior Secondary English Education major at the University of St. Francis. When he isn’t reading and writing, Robert enjoys graphic designing, taking walks, and watching an assortment of videos on YouTube. He has been based in Joliet, IL for about ten years, and plans to teach at one of the local high schools in the area after graduation.