When I was in 10th grade, my English teacher was trying a new thing: spelling tests.
It was the 90’s. And upon reflection as an adult – after wrestling with teacher pedagogy myself for years now – it is clear that this was Outcome Based Standards imposed on my tiny little school. And it is even clearer that my English teacher at the time, Mr. Strand, looked at the list of options that would fulfill this requirement and checked a box.
We took a pre-test and then a post-test. And, dear reader, I have now jumped through this particular hoop many, many times. But as a Sophomore, I needed to complete the pre-test before the post-test because I had been gone on pre-test day. So, now it was Thursday and I needed to do a makeup test before class the next day.
School got out at 3pm and I started work as a waitress at 4pm. So there I was, in front of a probably exhausted teacher to do a spelling test, after hours. One by one he said the words. And I wrote them down.
At the end, I walked up and handed him my list of words. He scanned it and his brows lifted. Then they lowered and stayed lowered. He said, “You weren’t supposed to prepare for this.” I said, “I didn’t.”
“You got them all right.”
As a teen, my defense mechanism of choice was to appear bored by everything so I shrugged and said, “Did I.”
“Even the word ‘naive.’ You got that right.”
I said, “I read.”
He looked up and studied my face and I, lacking all self-confidence, dodged his glance. In fact, I bobbed and weaved through any adult human contact.
What I wanted to say is: look, sir. I’ve been reading romance novels for years now. If you think I do not know how to spell one of the leading characteristics of 90’s romance novels heroines, you are sorely mistaken.
If you think I don’t know that male heroes are vigorous and robust; or that the villain is most often nefarious and effete; if you think I don’t know that the mother is often matronly and perspicacious, you do not know me at all.
Instead, like most teens, I shrugged. And I think I reminded him that I needed to get to work.
He said, “Well, you’ll take this same test tomorrow in class.”
As I turned to the doorway, his parting shot was easy. “And tell your friends at lunch how to spell ‘naive.’ They’re terrible at it.”