The Excellent Student

The Excellent Student

I have always been an Excellent Student!

I’m not saying I’m wicked smart…Just I have always been an Excellent Student. What makes an Excellent Student? Let’s look back…I’d consider My Excellent Student ‘formative years’ Grades 4th thuough7th. Before that Excellent Student’s status depended ENTIRELY on one’s Mother, and mine was exemplary! She chaperoned every single school field trip! The Aquarium… The Nutcracker…Sturbridge Village…Children Symphony…Museum of Science…Imagine nine 2nd graders during the ‘Plum Island Mud Walk!’ My Mom was one BRAVE LADY!   

(And with an older brother she had been to each venue at least once already.)

She was at Every PTA meeting and every school concert! She sewed costumes
for the school plays! She made pies for the Bake Sale.

She was ‘The Classroom Mother’ every year!

(She had the brilliant idea to get $2.00 from each parent for every school holiday party. Then she bought, made, and brought coordinating cupcakes and decorated cookies to school on party day. She had The Hawaiian punch, napkins, and paper cups enough for all my classmates. As you can see- Mary Excellent Student the EARLY YEARS were a breeze for me! Then, between 3rd and 4th Grade, everything changed!


You know how towards the beginning of the next school year when the local newspaper would come out with bus routes, and class assignments and everyone would get so excited to see who was in what class and who got what teacher?

I can remember I quickly scanned the pages and found my name, then skimmed up to see who my teacher would be. I stared at it with utter horror!!!!

”Mary Mattison,” it read, “4A Miss Taylor”. Miss Taylor??? Not Miss Taylor!
She was the Wicked Witch of all directions. The Scariest! Meanest! Ugliest! Most FEARED Teacher in the entire public school system!!!  (I think I threw up when I read it!)

The First Day of School 4th Grade- We the ‘unlucky few’ stood by the sign “Miss Taylor- 4A”. The luckier kids, who get other teachers, whispered and shook their heads staring sympathetically at us. They all knew we were doomed!

THEN… she appeared like Miss Gulch. Walking purposely through the tall grass across backfield. Rumor was that she lived near the school in a Candy House waiting to eat misbehaved pupils. I could almost hear the music, “nana, nana na na NAAA!” and see her flying monkeys above her!

 She stopped halfway… reached down and picked up A RUSTY AX. The Entire
“Miss Taylor- 4A” line fainted.

Suddenly…. Mary Excellent Student depended entirely on Mary!

I had to carry money to buy lunch tickets! I brought pants on Tuesday-Gym Day because Miss Taylor would not entertain girls playing DODGEBALL in skirts. Library books had to be covered! Every Friday was Desk Inspection. We walked to and from lunch in the world’s straightest…quietest line! All work (except math) had to be handed in done in perfect Reinhardt cursive and in PEN! If there was a mistake you started over. Miss Taylor did not accept smudged papers!

I got A’s in her class and still did extra credit! For my history project, I created a 4-color, 3D map of Brazil!  It was spectacular!  Miss Taylor hung on the wall!

(Where it stayed for the full year!)

In the end, she turned out to be very nice (to the conscious students) but that

The initial fear stuck with me!

In HER class I learned to do all schoolwork

to the absolute best of my ability and pass it in on time ON TIME!  

ON TIME is the Mantra of the Excellent Student.
Work prepared ON TIME! Passed in ON TIME!

Into bed ON TIME! So, I could get up ON TIME!

To catch the bus ON TIME!

So I could be seated properly at my desk, fully prepared, ON TIME!

I was always fascinated by my classmates who for some seemingly absurd reason did not do their Science Project! Or were unprepared for their Oral Book Report! Or hadn’t alphabetized the spelling words and used them in a complete sentence! They always had a prepared ‘Lack of Homework Excuse.’ ”My dog had puppies in my volcano. Old granny chewed on my pencil. It flew right out the school bus window. I must have left it in my locker!” and the incomprehensible “I forgot to do it!”

”Forgot to do it?” I thought, “Impossible!”

They always got off with a curt “FINE! Bring it in tomorrow!” from the teacher.

So went my Excellent Student Years 4th, 5th, and 6th grade. All PROJECTS, ESSAYS, WORKSHEETS, REPORTS – QUESTIONS ( at the end of each chapter.) Everything! Complete! Finished! Done and Passed in ON TIME!

Until… One day in the 7th grade. It was just after lunch. Algebra 1 with Miss Metro. I sat 3rd seat back, 2nd row left. We had just finished Chapter 4 when Miss Metro said, “Take out last night’s homework and I will come around and answer any questions you may have had on the assigned equations 1-20 page on 81. The rest of you start reading chapter 5.… At least, I think that’s what she said. I don’t remember exactly. Because I developed a sudden case of apoplexy- My jaw hit my desk and …my eyeballs rolled back into my head.

“My Algebra homework.” Those three words pounded against my brain. Until… suddenly the situation burst through and slammed my little mind into the top of my desk! “I didn’t do my Algebra Homework!!”My heart started pounding so hard I was afraid It would shake the school! By now Miss Metro… was slowly making her way down the first row… stopping at each desk and talking quietly with the student. What would I do when she got to me? I wanted to vanish! I even thought of faking a heart attack (whatever that was) but I couldn’t move, I was paralyzed with FEAR…

As she started up row 2, a faint glimmer of hope appeared. ‘A lack of homework excuse!’ I’d seen it done plenty of times! Although… I had never actually tried it. I quickly reviewed every ‘lack of homework excuse’ I had ever heard- It couldn’t be too vivid! Nothing to make her suspicious. A nice simple…believable… ‘Lack of homework excuse’.

I could hear her behind me now. Her perfumed shadow fell across my empty desk. “Mary?” she said.  Never suspecting I was about to betray her! I turned my agonized eyes up to meet hers… and squeaked out. “I left my homework in my locker.” There! I had done it! I had lied to her and waited for the usual curt “FINE! Bring it in tomorrow!”  BUT… Instead of snapping at me and moving on (perhaps it was my shaking hands?) She said… “That’s okay DEAR… Why don’t you go and get it?”

I can remember rising slowly from my seat and walking to the classroom door in a trance. Then stepping out into the empty corridor. It didn’t matter which direction I turned. I was a dead man walking…I knew there was NO algebra homework waiting patiently for me in my locker! “I would just keep walking”,
I thought. Right out the front door…then on and on…until…I reached the End of the Universe! THEN, I would hurl my small, worthless body into the great, black maw of The Abyss!

I simply couldn’t go back. And I could never go home! I would have to wander the school halls forever in Liar’s Exile! The polished floors echoed my pitiful little footsteps. I hung my head in despair!! My shame burned scarlet across my cheeks. I found myself standing in front of my locker. I opened it and stared blankly knowing full well, that there was NO Algebra homework waiting inside! Finally, I slammed it closed (a little too loudly) startling myself back to reality!

Now, I could end this tortured, little tale by claiming that the fire alarm suddenly clanged sending all the students and teachers scurrying out into the hallway sweeping me away to safety! Or that by some Twight-zonion glitch a forgotten, long-dead Ancestor had done my 20 equations on page 81 and stuck them to my locker door with metaphysical goo!  The boring truth is that I slinked back to my classroom and sheepishly told Miss Metro “I couldn’t find my homework.” and got off with a curt, “FINE! Bring it in tomorrow.”


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All images and writing are copyright Mary Lee Mattison 1/8/1981 All rights Reserved.

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