36: Passing the Test

36: Passing the Test

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just for Preteens

Passing the Test

You can teach a student a lesson for a day; but if you can teach him to learn by creating curiosity, he will continue the learning process as long as he lives.

~Clay P. Bedford

“What happened?” asked Mrs. Sharpnack. I shrugged. Pre-algebra was my last class of the day. Mrs. Sharpnack had asked me to stay after to discuss my mid-term exam. The red marks covering the test said everything. Without even seeing the grade, I knew I had failed. I had felt lost while taking the test, but still I had hoped that by some miracle I had passed. My shoulders slumped as I realized the consequences that would come from this.

My failing score would mean my grades wouldn’t be high enough to be on the honor roll that semester. In just a few weeks, the names of the honor roll students would be read during class. Those on the list would be excused to go watch a movie and have treats. I wasn’t as upset about missing the party as I was about having to explain to my friends why I wouldn’t get to go. My friends always got good grades, and usually, so did I.

“I know you can pass this test,” said Mrs. Sharpnack. I didn’t respond. “What if I let you take it again? I’ll give you a week to study.”

I just wanted to go home and forget about the test and never think about math again. “Thanks,” I said sadly, “But I’ll just take the score I earned.” A week, a month, a year — in my mind, it didn’t matter. I just wasn’t good at this kind of math and no amount of studying was going to change that.

Mrs. Sharpnack had given me an opportunity for a second chance, and I had turned it down. She could have left it at that. But she didn’t. Perhaps great teachers just can’t be satisfied with students falling short of their potential. “I know you can pass this test,” she repeated firmly. She said it with such resolution that it almost felt like a vow. For a brief moment, I wondered if she could be right.

“What time does your bus come?” she asked. I had thirty minutes from the time school let out until my bus came, and I told her so. She asked if I would be willing to use that time to go over the problems I had missed.

“I guess,” I replied timidly. We started right then and made plans to meet each day for one week, after which I would take the test again.

After going over a few problems, my friends, Valerie, Madena, and Charity, came looking for me. We always wandered the halls and just hung out while we waited for our bus. They stuck their heads in the doorway and when they saw me, they walked in.

“There you are,” said Madena. “We’ve been looking everywhere for you.”

“What are you doing?” asked Valerie.

I could feel my cheeks redden as I prepared to tell my friends why I was there. But, before I could say anything, Mrs. Sharpnack flipped my test upside-down, hiding its contents. “Amanda is helping me with a special project,” she said. And that was all the explanation my friends seemed to need. By then, it was time for our bus to come. I gathered up my things and the four of us left.

For the next week, I stayed after class with Mrs. Sharpnack. She would go over each problem, carefully explaining their solutions. Sometimes I still wouldn’t understand, and I would get frustrated. She stayed calm though and would think of a different way to explain it. Inevitably, while working through the problems, my friends would saunter in. Mrs. Sharpnack would pull out some puzzles for them. That kept them busy while we quietly went over my test.

The day designated to take the test again came quickly. I remained after class, as I had all the other days, but this time I sat at my desk alone. Mrs. Sharpnack gave me a new test and let me start working. I was nervous since it was a different test than the one we had gone over. The questions were hard, and I almost handed the test right back to her. But, then I remembered how hard we had worked and how she had told me that she knew I could pass. I settled into answering the questions, trying to remember the examples my teacher had used.

It wasn’t long before my friends arrived. They didn’t come over to talk to me, but left me to my work. I’ll never know if they knew what I was really doing each day after class. If they knew, they never said anything. I heard Mrs. Sharpnack talking with them. She was asking them about their lives and seemed genuinely interested, even though she wasn’t even their teacher.

Mrs. Sharpnack graded my test while I waited. She smiled as she recorded my new score, ninety-seven percent. A near perfect score; I had only missed one question.

Things were different after that. Maybe I could do math after all. Maybe it was possible. The day after I took the test, I was surprised to discover Charity, Valerie, and Madena walking into Mrs. Sharpnack’s class after school. I had assumed that once I had retaken the test that I wouldn’t be spending any more time outside of class there. But my friends had discovered something — a teacher who cared. And so we went to Donna Sharpnack’s classroom every day while we waited for our bus. It became our spot. She would talk with us, let us play with her games, and she even helped us with our homework.

Not long after my second chance, Mrs. Sharpnack stood in front of the room and read names from the honor roll list. She turned and smiled at me as she read the last name, “Amanda.” I happily met up with my friends and we all walked to the honor roll party together.

That was the only year I had Mrs. Sharpnack for a teacher. She moved on to a new school, but she had given me something far greater than a party with a movie and treats. Somehow, Mrs. Sharpnack made middle school, not just math, a little bit better.

The influence of a good teacher is far-reaching. A good teacher makes you feel like you matter. Good teachers motivate, inspire, and elevate us, and not just for the few moments when we are in their classes, but for our lifetimes.

~Amanda Yardley Luzzader

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