Mr. Williams

The year my parents’ marriage finally disintegrated, I was in the seventh grade. In my town at the time, the seventh grade was its own school: a stand-alone building with the most excellent name of The Seventh Grade Building. I was in Block 4 which meant I had Mr. Williams for Science.

Mr. Williams looked like a monkey. I was just beginning to piece this together from my own observations when my friend Angie T leaned over during class and whispered, “He looks like a monkey.”

He was short. During the course of the school year, most of the girls (though not the boys) surpassed him in height. He was bald, though not smoothly bald. He did not shave the random growth of wild hairs and fuzz across his whole spotted scalp, but at least he did not attempt to present it as actual hair in the form of a combover, or something worse. He always wore brown or dark olive dress pants and white, short-sleeved button-down shirts, complete with requisite pocket protector and pens befitting of a science teacher.

Mr. Williams was a yeller. Not an angry yeller, it was just his normal way of speaking. He liked to sneak in from one of the lab doors at the back of the room and begin class by shouting about what we would need for the day’s experiment. We all jumped every time class started.

Once he got going, he jumped all over the place–even on top of furniture, yelling. This is when he was most monkeylike. You’d have to spin on your seat to follow him with your eyes around the room and try to make sense of what the hell he was saying.

Now, this isn’t some heartwarming tribute to one of my favorite teachers. I do have favorite teachers, and teachers that I hated just like we all do. But Mr. Williams is pretty minor in my book; literally everything I remember about him is in this post.

I remember a Rube Goldberg project that I made that didn’t work, a hot dog cooker I made that didn’t work, and possibly an egg drop cushion that I made that didn’t work but I may have that mixed up with another class. I remember burning sugar and the smell is today permanently etched into my brainpan, but I can’t remember why we had to burn sugar.

And I remember early in the year, he asked someone to bring in a banana. He put a perfectly normal looking banana into a jar and sealed it up and said we’d come back to it. Weeks later he showed us how, even though the jar had been sealed, there were now swarms of fruit flies in with the banana, proving that fruit fly eggs are already in the banana when you eat it.

But I did learn something significant in Mr. William’s class. The first marking period, I got a D. I did not get D’s. I was pretty much an A student, and I regarded a D with as much shame as I would have had I been called out by the teacher in class for misbehaving. It was a shock to me; I was used to getting A’s just by sitting in front of Gilligan’s Island every day after school with a box of peanut butter Cap’n Crunch. I knew I was in trouble here and would have to work for it. I did as much extra credit as possible. I stayed after for help. I always did my homework. I always studied for the tests.

Mr. Williams knew I was trying. He didn’t care. No matter what, I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand the class. He gave me the grade I earned, nothing more. I later studied Biology, Botany, Physics and Electronics with much better results but the best I ever managed in seventh-grade Science was a C.

So what was the big life lesson I got out of it?

Certainly not Hard work pays off! or Those who persevere, succeed! The greater the challenge, the greater the victory! Determination is the glue that holds your moth-eaten dreams together! Nothing I ever saw on a pithy motivational poster proved true about Mr. William’s class.

No, the lesson I learned, but didn’t fully embrace until much later was this:

It’s not the end of the world to suck at something.

Oh, and that every time you eat a banana, you’re eating bugs.

dontblink

What do you suck at?

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114 thoughts on “Mr. Williams

  1. Lol! Eeewwww, I love bananas and now Im gonna worry about eating worms. Not really, I learned long ago it doesnt really matter what you eat bugs or pieces of bugs will get eatten. I had my favorite teachers like everuone else. I also had a couple of teachers that seemed to hate their jobs or the children in their classes. One teacher in particular I am certain was only a teacher so she could torment students. 🙂

  2. Oh, my word, is this perfectly timed for some discussions I’ve had recently! I will be emailing this to friends momentarily.

    With so much I suck at (not saying that in a self effacing way, just acknowledging human limitations), it’s hard to think of one thing in particular. Oh, I know: sitting still. Sometimes, R&R are what’s need to recuperate, but even the thought of stopping and just letting life flow around me for an hour feels like torture. I’m working on that.

    Also, on a more hands on front, 3D visualization. I was OK at chemistry, but the parts that involved imagining molecules interacting mostly just left me with a ginormous headache.

    1. So good to see you here! I totally suck at 3D visualization too. Man! My brain is smooth in that part. It used to drive me nuts when I toured with CC and we would do load outs because every so often he would change our set truck pack, just for fun. And then walk away in the middle of it. Which me left with half a truck of gear to still pack and crew of Teamsters waiting for me to call the next piece.

  3. Hold up — what’s this about bananas?!

    I was an A/B student in every class all throughout high school. Except for math. We had the toughest math teacher to ever come down the pike. I studied my ass off and still rarely got above a C. Algebra basically kept me off the honor roll every time. I accept that I suck at math. I went on to college and did very well with math classes, but I never liked math. It makes me panic. Now I have to tackle it again in my medical classes and with my old brain, it isn’t easy.

    1. I actually got better at math as I got older (but not THIS old!). I’ve been thinking about prepping to take a Calculus class on my own because I only ever got as far as pre-calc but I have to admit I’m afraid of finding out that part doesn’t work any more. Good luck with your math!

  4. I will never eat another banana again. Thanks a lot, JM! Blech.

    Math. Like Darla said above, math is my thing I suck at. I really really really don’t get math. I’m scared of the upcoming school years of my sons, because I will be useless to them in that subject.

      1. JM!!! Freshly Pressed? Bravo, lady!! Well deserved.

        And, while we’re chatting here, you know, friend to friend and all . . . how about you put in a good word for me over there with the head honchos. I mean, not that I’m jealous or envious of you or anything, no way! Nope. 😉

  5. Writing is something you most definitely don’t suck at, MJ. Seriously. I so enjoy your words.

    To your point, we never really hear that it’s okay to suck at something, do we? Certainly not in school.

    Planning/organization and I aren’t on good terms. Which isn’t the best thing to suck at when you’re an adult with four kids.

    On the other hand, I sure don’t suck at impregnation!

  6. This is so, so true! I’d like to think I’m good at everything, but can’t say that with a straight face. I definitely suck at basic math, like subtracting. What’s 23 minus 7? you ask. Hold on, let me get out my calculator. It’s shameful.

  7. LOL.
    I’m not good at anything artsy. I can’t paint, draw, sculpt, or anything like that to save my life. But I CAN colour. Does that count for anything?
    It used to drive me crazy that I had no “talent” since I couldn’t do visual arts OR sing OR dance… But now I accept my writing as my gift.

  8. I’m not sure I can forgive you for that information about bananas! I love bananas!!! At least I used to.
    I suck at so many things. Where do I begin? Math, organizational skills, getting things done in a timely fashion! But I rock at procrastination!

  9. I suck at math, too. I got a D in Algebra 2 my junior year of college. Everything else: As. Maybe a couple B+s. Math: D. I’ve sucked at it since 4th grade and you know what? It doesn’t matter. I can add, subtract, multiply, divide, solve for x (most of the time) and convert celsius to fahrenheit so I know the true temperature of my wine via my wine thermometer. And that’s all I need.

  10. I never could do very well in “Logic and Digital Systems” taught by Prof. Robinson. I would try like hell to keep up by copying down all the Boolean algebra he would scrawl with frantic speed on the boards that lined all four walls of the classroom. One day after finishing all four walls he admitted he had made an error making my half hour of copying null and void and giving me the only thing I took away from the class. “I write ‘A’, I think ‘B’, I say ‘C’, but ‘D’ is correct!”

  11. Good life lessons. The first one is profound and all, but that second one was a surprise to me. What about apples? Cantaloupe? Watermelon? Is it only bananas that come preloaded with vermin, or are all fruits similarly afflicted?

  12. I’m never eating bananas again, either. In fact, just to be on the safe side, I’m never eating anything again.

    Music. Notes and octaves and E-minor. I don’t get it, and never will. I took violin lessons for six months and then my tutor moved to South Korea. I don’t think she really wanted to go, but it was either that or stay here and keep trying to teach a cinderblock how to play an instrument.

    Wonderful post, JM. What’s an egg drop cushion?

    1. It’s the contraption you make so that you can put an uncooked egg in it, drop it from some height, and the egg won’t break. It’s actually called something else but I don’t remember what. Mine didn’t work, that’s all I remember. Violin is an instrument that takes years of practice to make not to sound like fighting cats. I have always thought that those who teach beginning violinists are already in their own personal circle of hell.

      1. I’m not even going to ask why you would want to drop an uncooked egg from some height without breaking it, because I’m sure it’s a pointless waste of time, and I have way too many important things on my schedule to be worried about something so trivial.

        Okay, how do I do it?

  13. I knew there was a reason I’m not fond of bananas. But I’m guessing this applies to all fruit, so I guess I’m screwed.

    I can totally relate to you and Mr. Williams class. For me, it was chemistry. I ruled at biology, but no matter how hard I tried, the good grade in chemistry proved elusive. I maxed out at a C. At least I passed!

    Whatever… that’s why today, WE WRITE!

  14. Love it! I found your blog cause I saw your article about being in line at the grocery store and your kids talking about Teen Mom. You are right to answer questions and allow conversations like those. Never mind judgy checkout girls. Keep up the good work.

  15. I wish I had learned that lesson in seventh grade. I suck at cooking. Unfortunately, I do a lot of cooking, because I’m the best our family’s got.

  16. Anything athletic. Not only do I suck, but I don’t even care. I’ll be the outlier in the comments though and admit that I always managed to blow the wings off anyone else around me in math and science and yet still have girl parts. Math and science still go down effortlessly, but I’ve never seen home plate from third base in my life and can’t imagine why anyone would need to.

  17. i believe the bugs are not in the banana but on the banana, so you aren’t really eating them. however, congrats on the FP thing. very cool, not that you weren’t already.

    i had a favorite teacher. me.

    1. I believe you are correct. However, Mr. Williams conveniently never mentioned that to us. On purpose. Plus, I’ve never known a bug to stay put. I just don’t trust them to remain on the outside where they belong.

      1. i would imagine it isn’t difficult for them to bore their way inside. one of the things that always bugged me about teaching was giving grades. if you are trying your absolute best, shouldn’t i grade you on that? what if another student isn’t really trying but manages to get good scores? are they a better “student” than you? i don’t think so.

  18. I begged my dad every year to let me drop math. Finally, in my senior year, the teachers said “just don’t even bother.” I have never studied physics or chemistry so I suck hugely at pretending to know stuff like the periodic table — which really backfired when I recently interviewed a Yale engineering professor who kept referring to certain metals on the table and I finally broke down and had to ask him (English major!) what he was talking about in very long sentences of multi-syllabic words. He looked at me kindly and with pity and pointed to a periodic table on his desk. Yeah, that, sure.

    My single worst weakness (death for a writer who does it for a living) is copy-editing and proof-reading. Those teeny details — like a misplaced digit or letter — can be (and have recently been) the death of me.

  19. I slept through tenth grade math. The teacher would turn off the lights, turn on an overhead projector and wham, my head was on my desk and I was nearly comatose. I think I learned that I already sucked at math and that I didn’t care. But that’s not the same thing as what you learned, which is much more profound. “It’s okay to” makes all the difference in the learning process there. Great writing! You had me sitting in the classroom with you.

  20. Hi JM,
    You ask me what I suck at. I am great at math but lousy at writing. It looks to me like you do not have that problem as you have an awesome blog. Thanks for sharing.

  21. This final lesson is one that so many students struggle with, failure or poor performance as an experience rather than a measurement of intelligence or ability.

    For me your true artistry was in your depiction of Mr. Williams.

  22. ewwww..thank goodness i dont like bananas…your teacher had a harsh way of teaching the truth! even if i did, that’d be my last ever 😉
    good luck and congrats

  23. Ugh, I will never again eat bananas. I didn’t like them already, but that cinches the issue. My school tried to separate out our grades so that we got letter grades for achievement and number grades for effort, and I think I felt worse when I got a low effort grade for a class I tried hard in than a low number grade. You’re right – it’s important to learn that sometimes you can’t succeed and that’s ok. It’s nice to have the effort acknowledged, though.

  24. Awesome post.
    I suck at so many things. Being a teacher, I always tell my students all the things I suck at at the beginning of the year and tell them it’s OK to suck at somethings and that a C isn’t the end of the world if you tried your best. Once when I taught English as a second language, I gave my students a short presentation in French because i was studying French at the time. I sucked so bad some of them had tears running down their faces because they were laughing so hard. But they tried their best after that…probably because they knew they couldn’t look any worse than I had that day.

  25. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!! I love your conclusion. It’s true we can’t be good at everything and those that specialize and do what they do best, seem to succeed. Go figure, huh?

  26. OMGosh I love this. It personifies what 7th grade represents to so many of us (at my age that can be a challenge to recall, at times). Take the infusion of raging hormones, coupled with the awkwardness of major growth spurts, and just for the heck of it, add the ‘almost’ nameless teacher.
    I thoroughly enjoyed your post; I almost felt 13 again, and at age 60 that is a major feat within itself. 😉
    Keep writing, and don’t stop!

  27. He he – I haven’t eaten a banana since middle school either.

    This reminds me of 8th grade Earth Science, which was basically 3 hours of busywork every day. (I was home schooled, which is another can of worms). The 8th grade science teacher at the home school workshop we attended once a week was a worn-out looking lady who sounded choked with so many things to do. She could barely get a sentence out at times. This wasn’t due to any extenuating circumstances either. I knew her for 10 years, and she was always swamped with projects of her own design. Sad how some people think being busier will make them happy. Sadder yet when they try to spread the “happiness”!

  28. Am I reading too much into this to suggest that as a teacher you rated Mr. Williams a “C”? Like fly ridden bananas this is just food for thought. I liked your story. I would have given both you and he a better mark than C.

  29. I enjoy your writing. I just don’t know if I can forgive your teacher, or you by proxy, for ruining my love for bananas. I may never eat a banana again. Ever.

  30. Great message!! It is not the end of the world if you suck at something as long as you take it as a challenge and not get disheartened. Life is a learning curve and today i learnt that bananas have fruit flies and it makes me want to eat it even more..hehe

  31. I loved this piece, and because of the banana, I wanted to include my own Doctor Who essay. 🙂 A warning before you come to my web site. Most of my stuff is tame. Some of it’s not. Take heed.

    1. Ha! When I saw the banana and “don’t blink” together the first thing I did was scope out the page for a weeping angel! I have a *small* Doctor Who obsession…

  32. Great post!

    I sucked at math, and I still do. I learned the lesson that you did, and I also learned to set my ambitions to suit my strengths.

    It’s not the end of the world to suck at something, but obsessing over one thing you can’t do so well at the expense of further developing those that you can do well is really shooting yourself in the foot.

  33. I once had a banana all wrapped up in plastic and zipped into the pocket of my back pack, and the fruit flies got it. Never could figure that out. Now seventh grade you taught me why!
    I hate that A grades are the new C grade. But equally hate students being discouraged. Gentle truth works best.

    1. Yeah, you think they’re following you or something. . .now you know the truth! I agree that the grading system isn’t holding up as a reference point, but I don’t have any suggestions for it. I do like the idea of gentle truth. Thanks for stopping by!

  34. This was funny. I LOLed a few times. Junior high school teachers make great writing prompts. I can think of a few stories myself. Thanks for the inspiration . I found your blog via Freshly Pressed

    1. This did actually come out of an exercise we did in one of my writers groups. I thought everybody else’s teachers were way better because they were vaguely sinister. Thanks for stopping by!

  35. 1. CONGRATS on Freshly Press-itude!

    2. Yeah. The bugs part is gonna be the lesson I take from this, too. Thanks a lot.

    3. But seriously. I think that is one of the most underrated lessons of all-time.

    4. I’m using a list, which I’m good at, to cover up the fact that I suck at leaving meaningful comments.

    1. The other thing is that people who don’t suck at anything? Nobody likes them! Thanks for #1, and your #4 is total BS so I am going to put in a #5 for you, that you suck at lying.

  36. I suck at technology. Super huge suck. I’ve finally accepted it, and you’re right: it’s totally okay.

    I’m never eating another banana, so thanks for that.

    Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!

    1. The great thing about sucking at technology is that those who do not suck at it are working hard to make it easier for the rest of us. I call it a win-win. Thanks for stopping by!

  37. Yep. It’s a hard lesson to learn when you breeze through classes and get that first D. I’m waiting for my son to learn this lesson. Great post. Congrats on FP. It proves you don’t suck at something.

  38. So glad I found your blog on Freshly Pressed, and congrats on getting there! Thanks for this post, there are a myriad of things I suck at that I am coming to grips with as a mom, most recently I’ve accepted the fact that I am NOT crafty, (read my child will never have a totally awesome handmade baby book) and I can’t cook without a detailed recipe, even baby food. As far as bananas, I will continue to eat them, bugs and all. Extra protein.

    1. Thanks, and that’s kind of how I see it. . .extra protein and, truly, something I don’t have time to worry about. Plus if my kids are all wigged out about bugs on bananas, it’s more bananas for me. I have decided also that children become more creative only by necessity. So you’re actually helping the kid out there.

  39. Funny. My daughter used to be a straight A student, and I was worried that she would get so stressed with school work that she would be unhappy. I told her to pick one subject to ‘fail’ in. She thought the idea potty, but chose IT to do no work in. In the end she got a creditable ‘C’ in this subject and A’s in everything else. I asked her what she had learned from this and she said “Well Dad, it looks like all I need to do is turn up to pass a stupid exam, and I should give myself a break”. As it happens she is now a successful IT manager.
    It is not only ok to ‘suck’ at something, it is kind of necessary to make all the achievements seem worthwhile. Great post x H

  40. I really liked this post. I personally suck at not saying every little thing that jumps into my mind. It’s a daily struggle. I just don’t know how tactful people do it!

  41. This is a great post! I feel like almost everyone has that moment when they realize they suck at something, no matter how much they try. I think mine happened around that age, as well. It is crushing, but also almost binds you to other people in a deeper way because it teaches us that we need other people to be good at what we suck at. Congrats on being FP!
    http://stepstochangetheworld.wordpress.com/

  42. Hi JM.

    Three things stand out from that Post for me. :

    1 Mr Williams’ seemingly CONSTANT yelling?

    2 Burning Sugar?.

    3 I’ve just been put off Bananas for life, I think?.

    Best Wishes
    Kev

  43. I love your blog! Well I’ve only read this one entry so far but I loved it to itty bitty bits and pieces. I’ve followed you too so I can check out what may come in the future. I had a nice chuckle at the end. I suck at lots of things. My 20mth old has just highlighted to me that I can’t sing all that well. He now says “No more” after only two lines in of his very favourites! lol

  44. I suck at a great many things, which is the reason I tell my husband I don’t want to learn to golf…I already suck at a great many things. Keeping my house clean (I happen to like dog hair and dust), learning to play guitar (I come from a very musically talented family and I can’t even hum!), maintaining weight loss, and anything athletic are among the things at which I suck magnificently.

    Great post, congrats on the FP – well deserved.

  45. Too right :). I don’t understand why people must believe that they can be great at everything (Oh wait yes I do because we are in the “You can be whatever you want to be” generation). I knew kids who were tone-death, had poor vocal range and yet insisted they wanted to be singers. You just need to find what you’re good at and stick with it.

  46. I clicked the link because I thought I would be reading Dr. Who story! Instead I learned something about bananas – gross. As for what I suck at: math and socializing with real people.
    Thanks for the laugh.

  47. I didn’t know there were bugs in bananas… I love bananas and I have a feeling I won’t eat them again without remembering this 😀 I really only remember one teacher, which was my kindergarten teacher. She was as sweet as she could be.
    This post is awesome, even though I was shocked about the banana thing.

  48. Everyone sucks at something..Some of us stopped worrying about exactly “what” we suck at long ago…I stopped attempting to draw, after many, many attempts..(my best is stick figures) but I’m excellent in designing an entire room! Or perfectly creating something lovely out of pretty much nothing..(like basket arrangements out of the ordinary; that everyone wants one of) Cute reflective topic & excellent write! 2 thumbs UP

  49. I had the same experiences with 10th grade geometry and ancient Greek. I just don’t get formulas. At all. I did a lot of before school/after school and extra credit for both of those classes and was pleased as punch that I received a C. Needless to say, I became an Old Testament scholar instead of New Testament. Hebrew was significantly easier than Greek.

  50. I such at sports.
    Yet, it turns out I can catch things if I’m not thinking about it. If only I could go back in time to 7th grade… I wouldn’t.

  51. i agree. we remember teachers at their best and for some, of course at their worst. no matter how best/worst they had been, still there was something that remains in us which create what we are today, owh, during those old day, i suck. i suck it up

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