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.
What do you suck at?