I think there’s something about this room.
I come in here smiling, usually having just laughed about something or other– the subject is unimportant in the scheme of things– and I take a deep breath, trying to hold on to that lightheartedness.
I sit down, waiting for the third bell to ring (the first announced the end of one period, the second announced 1 minute left to get to class, the final began class). I fidget a bit, nervous, but then grow still as the clock ticks closer and closer to my hour of impending doom.
The bell rings, echoing down the hallways and drowning out the raised voices of the students still dawdling outside the door.
I pull out my binder, catching my fingers in the metal ring to tug it from the overly crowded confines of my backpack. The plastic covering scratches as it slides across my desk and I reach into the pocket of my bag, fingers searching for the cool plastic of cheap pencils, a carefully cultivated collection of unextraordinary plastic, easily forgotten by other students until I claimed them as my own ad dropped them into this pocket.
My body is still awkwardly stretched into the aisle as my teacher finally enters, snapping the door shut behind him and locking us into this cinder block room. It’s supposed to be a safety measure– you can’t come in here unless you’re supposed to be here– but, for the most part, that is entirely ignored. People wander in and out all the time, whether from tardiness, reluctance to be here, or the always-inconvenient call of nature. But me, I stay here. Exactly as I am, every day.
The teacher begins talking and I open my binder and reach for my agenda. The homework from yesterday has already been scratched out and a partially-filled page holds the promise of homework for tonight, too. I scribble the pages in, labeling it neatly with the class as though the contrasting handwriting styles balance out into the ideally-imperfect scrawl.
I close the agenda again, dropping it into my backpack to be forgotten until the next class. There is a rustling around the room as a few others begin to take out their materials for the class. Overly-stuffed binder, agenda, and pencil if you care enough, and a calculator if you retain hope of using it in this particular class, where archaic methods of actual “learning” defy the use of technology. It’s a burden to think, of course; few of us know how to function without the comforting bulk of the calculator on our desk. I am one such person, but I have long since given up on the endlessly useful technology.
The teacher launches into class and I settle back in my seat, the connected desk allowing me to slouch, hoping that the teacher will not call on me for answers as he goes over the homework. His awful habit of making us think is largely centered on the front row and I am stationed here, my wish to be able to see overcoming my automatic tendency to settle into the back of the room where I can go unnoticed. He doesn’t though, and I am temporarily saved. Part of me is annoyed, though. I had actually done the homework this time, but my crumpled sheet of paper is marked by the tiny question marks that indicate my confusion and the tell-tale remnants of wrong answers that I had erased. Of course he wouldn’t check it today, the day I actually cared enough to struggle through the twenty problems we had for homework. I sigh and push the homework into the binder, where it will be forgotten until the next test and my confusion will be tripled by time and forgetfulness.
Homework questions are now irrelevant as class begins. I listen and copy down the notes dutifully, already feeling the twinges of confusion. Some (very) small part of me is interested in learning this, but for the most part, the part of me that is uncomfortable and unsure of this new topic is already winning the battle in my mind. Again.
During a moment given to work on the practice problems written on the board that I am still hopeless to understand, I turn to the friend that sits next to me, asking in a whisper if she understands what is going on. She is talking to herself quietly as she writes out numbers quickly and then smiles softly, proud of her work, before moving to the next question.
I sigh, my eyes flicking to the clock, counting seconds, and the inattentive murmurings of my classmates becomes louder. The teacher gives up his hopeless quest to shove inexpliquably complicated mathematical concepts into our heads and the period of math dissolves into a brief respite of social life when we should be working on the twenty-something homework problems for tonight.
At last, the teacher announces that he has our tests from two weeks ago. He calls our name and we shuffle forward to claim our own piece of failure.
My body freezes and I cross my fingers, wishing for an A. My name is called and my pounding heart is sufficiently masked by the din of the class. My fingers are clammy, trembling as I reach forward to take my last test from my teacher. I return to my seat with the paper facedown, all too aware of the expectant looks of my three friends that share my corner of the room. I sit, for a moment closing my eyes as I will for the grade to be decent.
I open my eyes and flip over the paper. An F, again.
I bite my lip, holding back the sound of despair by a hair and thinking about how much of a failure I am.
As I tuck the test into my artfully disorganized bakpack to be forgotten, I hope that my halfhearted ignorance of my failure will allow me to perform better the next time around.
But all I can think about is that this room is a trap, and I am trapped here, composing drawn-out odes to the class that always makes me cringe.