When I was a sophomore in high school, I was in a pretty interesting History class. Interesting because my teacher, Mrs. G., was probably one of the more quirkier teachers I’d had in a long time. She was excited about almost everything, pretty corny, and fairly melodramatic. It didn’t take long realize that I loved her to pieces. Why? Because, overall, she was firm when she needed to be, an open lover of learning (especially History, naturally), and just fun. And guess what? That was me as a student: I loved the discipline of school, I loved learning, and I loved fun in a classroom. There you go. But this random memory isn’t a love-fest about my old teacher. It’s about something significant that happened in Mrs. G.’s class.
It was test day. When it came to any class that wasn’t Math, I studied hard. No, seriously, hard. Not only did I want to do well, but I had a deep love (still do) for History. So I wanted my A. Anyway, I took my test and felt pretty confident about it. The next day, Mrs. G. asked me to stay after class. I remember gazing at her in confusion, like, stay for what? To be praised for my A? Like, did nerds stay after class? Because I was a nerd and an obedient one, at that. Further compounding my confusion, she asked another student to stay, as well. We’ll call him N.B. So N.B. and I were sitting there, waiting, wondering. At least I was. Once class was dismissed, Mrs. G. stood before us and, in hushed tones, announced that she felt that one of us had cheated on our tests.
I almost laughed.
I regarded her, half-smiling, waiting for her to pronounce judgment on N.B. After all, everyone knew that he didn’t even try to be a good student. He was more famous for starting fights in hallways than studying. When she remained silent, I felt my oxygen depleting. She was waiting for one of us to admit to it. But did Mrs. G. seriously believe that I had cheated? Me, who took rabid notes during class? Me, who laughed at her silly jokes? Me, who did my homework faithfully?
Even worse: N.B. then says, at the top of his lungs, that it wasn’t him that cheated. My heart racing, visions of my intense studying running through my mind, I also inform Mrs. G that I didn’t cheat on the test.
Mrs. G: Well, someone cheated.
Me: It wasn’t me.
N.B.: It wasn’t me.
Eventually, to settle the issue, she requested that we each re-take the test. Notably, she sat us far, far away from one another. (In case you haven’t guessed, N.B. sat next to me in class.) I nearly pounced on the paper when she handed it to me. Minutes later, I handed the completed test to her and almost near tears, walked out of class. If you guessed that I told the story at length to my friends, decrying the injustice of it all, you would be right. I was incredulous that one of my favorite teachers would believe this about me.
Later, I received my test back. I got my A. We never spoke about it again–until the last day of school. A bunch of friends and I went back to her class to say goodbye at the end of the school year. Needless to say, I certainly didn’t plan on joining the chorus of goodbyes and we loved your class; I intending on merely standing there and giving her the stink eye for not believing in me. But that plan didn’t work. Perhaps it was the bravado that came with almost being a junior. Perhaps it was because I was still pretty hurt and angry and confused. Whatever it was, I waited for a lull in conversation and came out with it. “Mrs. G, why did you make me re-take that test?” I questioned. She smiled. I’ll never forget her reply. “I knew N.B. cheated off your paper. Only you would give me the full answer for a question and give me more information in parentheses. His answers were identical to yours, so it was clear he had copied off you. But the matter needed to be settled.”
A million years later, today, I finally get it. I truly didn’t get it back then, but I accepted her reply and we made up. Now, however, it’s quite clear: it was important not to openly accuse this young man of cheating. It was important to give both of us the benefit of the doubt. And that’s the bottom line. In the end, it didn’t feel great at the time, but looking back, I realize that she did believe in me. Means a lot, even now.