Answering Whispered Questions This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

January 19, 2010
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As the teacher's parched lips opened to pronounce my name, I knew what lay ahead. Her cruel eyes panned toward me, and she summoned me to the whiteboard. My eyes darted around the brightly colored room; my mind tried to strategically plan. I melted into my seat right then and there.

Sitting in that classroom was the absolute last place I wanted to be at that moment. My heart pounded, my stomach churned, and my entire body quivered with fear.

I was being beckoned to the board to perform a long division problem. Long division was my most dreaded subject. I repeatedly put the numbers in the incorrect places, or forgot to add in the zeros.

I tensely lifted myself out of my seat. With every slow, shuffled step I took, I grew more and more nervous. My palms started to sweat. I could feel everyone's eyes glued to me, judging me silently. I just barely overpowered the urge to dart out the door and run away from this unwanted predicament.

As I approached the whiteboard, its massiveness intimidated me. It was challenging me sarcastically, for we both knew it would declare victory in the end. I heard the blonde-haired girl next to me uncap her marker with a squeaking pop. I copied it and twisted the cap off my marker. The teacher announced the equation aloud, and I cringed with every syllable. I tried desperately to scavenge my brain and translate the undecipherable gibberish she was spewing out. I looked at the girl to my right, and tried to copy what she was writing, unsure of myself. Despite my efforts, she went faster than I could comprehend, writing down what seemed to be foreign hieroglyphics.

My gaze again fixated on the chicken scratch I had attempted. My work looked like how a baby sounds when it's just learning to talk. Impossible to understand. Why me? Why couldn't I wrap my mind around this strange concept that all the other kids ­understood? Why, even when I tried my hardest to process these equations, did they come out looking like a few lonely, awkward lines on the page? These questions swirled in my head like whispered questions in the dark. The word why echoed in my mind, tearing at my heart with wickedness.



I held back salty tears. My thoughts came back into focus as the other girl closed her marker and pranced back to her seat. Hysterical with fear, I slapped some arbitrary numbers on the board, and rushed back to mine. The teacher read over our work silently. A hint of frustration came over her face as she read my pathetic attempt at this concept that I so despised.

“Now, class, Susie did this problem absolutely correctly.”

I glanced at the little blonde-haired girl, and she was beaming with perfection. I envied her.

“As for Tara,” the teacher proclaimed, rolling her eyes, “Gosh, I don't even know what she did. I mean really, it looks like she's dumb or something.”

The class burst into snickers, and I felt my face turn red as I tried to sink as low as possible into my seat, in hopes of preventing them from seeing me at all. I wanted to wail. I was engulfed in humiliation.

But this memory from fourth grade is one I remember, surprisingly, in a positive way. This ­experience made me feel unimportant and downright dumb. Yet it made me stronger, and gave me persistence.

When I get a horrific grade in school, or am put down by somebody, I think of that moment and every single one of those whys that I asked myself. The twisting sickness in my stomach comes back – and gives me the motivation to answer all of those whys and persist until perfection, or as close as I can get.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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This article has 5 comments. Post your own now!

bassista124 said...
Sept. 4, 2012 at 5:05 pm
THIS WAS GREAT! I really could relate to it... This past year (I was a sophomore in high school), I was cornered so much by bullies, teachers and friends, I felt there was no escape.  Just reading your article made all those memories come back, and I'm glad that I could relate to you!
CatherineK said...
Jan. 5, 2011 at 9:30 pm
I had a very similar long division experience in 4th grade, but I finally got the hang of it once I had made dozens of mistakes... did your teacher really say that? If a teacher calls a student dumb it means they're not doing their job well enough. Well written.
Annalibelle said...
Aug. 19, 2010 at 8:51 pm

Late comment, I know but....

This piece was as well written as some of the more popular pieces. The flow is very smooth and the tone semes polished. The word choice is good. The description is just enough, not too much, but very vivid. The story itself is very relateable. You did a good job of turning a common experience into something special and worth reading. The last two paragraphs make this piece seem very preachy and moralistic. it seems more like a prompted "look back on your li... (more »)

thepreechyteenager said...
Mar. 27, 2010 at 9:35 pm
Not bad- loved how I knew it was real.  The only critisizm I have is about the last two paragraphs, I know they're supposed to show the reason for the telling of the story but I think the put the story a little too much into perspective.
WhimsicalKestrel replied...
Sept. 17, 2010 at 10:42 am
Did your teacher really say that?!?!
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