Every 3rd grade teacher has a reward system to keep the little brats in line, mine had “Student of the Week”. Thursday’s Mrs. Landau would announce who the best behaved student was for the week, and the following week, they would hold the prized position of “Student of the Week”.
The Student of the week had a lot of privileges. First, she got to sit in the second row, first seat, close to the teacher and door. She also got to run all of Mrs. Landau’s errands: go the office to pick up photocopies, get Mrs. Landau a drink of water, pass out papers and the like. Looking back, we were all just vying to be her personal slave, but back then, there wasn’t anything we wanted more.
Best of all privileges, the Student of the Week got to wear a pin with ribbons on it that read “Student of the Week”. Worn every day, all the girls in the class, grade, and anyone she’d meet in the school during the duration of her reign would know of her accomplishment, of her status.
I wanted everyone to know how great and special I was. I wanted to be Student of the Week. But it was so hard. Every week something happened that I knew would take me out of the running. Once, I came in late for recess, another time I called out. Other times, I whispered in class for my friend to give me a pencil, and then sometime, I didn’t have the right books on the right day, even if she gave us a chart telling us what we needed when. There were also those weeks that I was ok, but other girls were better than me.
Patiently, I waited my turn, waiting for the day where the sun would shine on me, and I would be among the chosen glorious.
Mrs. Landau said that every girl would have the opportunity to be Student of the Week at least once, before anyone got a second chance. So I knew, that even if I wouldn’t earn it, I’d one day, by default come into respect. I kept a secret class list, and carefully maintained records of who was student of the week, who was still left, and when could I possibly secure my place and validity.
The weeks went by, and my name wasn’t called, but it was ok, there was still time. And then came the week where I knew I would have to be crowned, everyone else had had their moment in the sun. I behaved extra well that week, I wanted to deserve it, even though I knew it was coming to me. I kept myself in check. I didn’t push in line, I didn’t lose my place reading, I kept my desk neat, and none of my pencils rolled noisily off my desk. And on Thursday I waited for the inevitable confirmation.
It didn’t come.
Mrs. Landau started off saying how excited she was to call this girl’s name, what a model student she was and how beautiful she conducted herself all week, and we should all learn from her. I leaned forward in my seat expectantly, so proud that I had really done it right. But then she said,
“Chani Green, come up!”
She called a different girl’s name, not mine. Not Brenda Stein. She called up a girl who had a chance early on in the year. A naturally sweet, angelic, organized, well-behaved girl. A girl who would have won have won every week if she were in the running. Won it without breaking a sweat, or giving a thought.
I slid down in my seat, embarrassed. She didn’t call me, she had ignored me, and all my efforts, passed me over. I had tried so hard, this was supposed to be my moment, but now it was another to enjoy, again. I was heartbroken, and hurt, I didn’t understand how this could have happened. I calculated correctly, there was no error, this title was supposed to be mine, except it wasn’t.
The next week, Chani Green took my seat in the second row, first seat. And she performed all of my duties. I didn’t try anymore. There was no effort to participate, to listen, to behave, to be. I was cheated out of my 3rd grade dream with no explanation.
The next year, I vowed to start fresh. I would behave, participate, be organized. I had a rough start the first week, but I was determined to make it work. On Monday of the second week of school, there was knock on my classroom door. A small girl with frizzy red hair popped her head in and requested that I come out. Puzzled, I exited the classroom, and when I looked at her, I didn’t see her large flaming hair, put was drawn to the pin on her chest, Mrs. Landau’s “Student of the Week” pin.
Mrs. Landau wanted me to erase my name that I had written in pencil (no pens allowed until 5th grade) in the back of several of my textbooks, the Student of the Week explained. She led me to stack of books and handed me an eraser.
The back staircase was cold on my bottom, where I sat erasing my name. There were other names of previous students written of the white canvas, but she called me. I was a failure of a student, I could never be a “Student of the Week” under any teacher. Having her current prized pupil pull me out of class and reprimand me on her behalf, was a slap in the face letting me know my worth.
There went my year.
And other teacher’s tried. They had their systems, their rewards, their different titles, but they were all the same to me – I never tried to be a Student of the Week again.