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Following the Leader
It’s a Monday morning, one of those mornings where nobody, and I mean nobody, is going to pay attention. However, Mrs. Richards hasn’t learned that yet.
“All, right everybody, take your seats,” Mrs. Richards shouts over the din. The students around me appear to have no attention of obeying, for after a second of silence, everyone just continues to stand and talk as loud as they please. After three attempts Mrs. Richards finally manages to get everyone seated and silent. She sighs with relief.
“Today’s an exciting day, everyone!” she explains enthusiastically. “By the end of today, we’ll have chosen our groups for our week long history project!”
The classroom erupts with whispering, the students somehow communicating through frantic hand waving and head tossing . I bury my head in my desk, knowing nobody will be signaling me, nobody wanting to be Bethany Mills’ partner.
“No, no,” Mrs. Richards says hastily. “All year you’ve been choosing the same groups over and over, and some of you,” she stares intently at me. “Haven’t even been working in groups at all. We’ll be doing this randomly.” The girl beside me groans loudly and obviously, shooting an anguished glance at her best friend. Mrs. Richards waves a little tin pail in the air. “You’ll work in groups of three. First is Jonah, Ashley and Mo.”
Ashley, who I discover is the groaner next to me, gathers up her books, only to be stopped by Mrs. Richards, who hastily adds, “You can get in groups later. Next group- Valerie, Emmy, and…” The slip she’s holding drops and as she stoops to pick it up I hear Valerie and Emmy, both extremely high up the popularity ladder, squealing behind me. Mrs. Richards straightens, holding the runaway slip. “And Bethany.”
What? Oh no. Oh no, no, no, no. I shut my eyes tightly, unable to tune out Valerie and Emmy’s frantic whispering. Me and the popular girls working together? This is an absolute nightmare. When Mrs. Richards has finally finished calling names, I open my eyes to identical Dubble Bubble pink frowns.
“Bethany, we’ll work with you as long as you know I’m the leader,” Valerie says.
“Yeah. She gets to make the rules and everything,” Emmy adds, crossing her arms.
Excuse me? I’m more than ready to protest. After all, who’s got the better grade in this class? Who’s actually been taking notes? But just as I’m about to speak, I see Mrs. Richards giving me the evil eye, and I shut my mouth.
“Great!” Valerie bubbles happily, taking my silence for agreement. Instantly she and Emmy begin a discussion on- ohmygosh- does Ashley actually think those boots go with that top? I slump down miserably, tracing the faux wood grain on the desktop. If I was alone, I would have chosen my topic five times already. But I’m not and Valerie’s the leader, so the class period is wasted on gossip.
The bell rings and I gather up my things quickly, ready to retreat to my favorite time of the day- math class. But as I file past Mrs. Richards’ desk I hear, “Oh Bethany. Will you come here just a moment?” Why do teachers always ask when they know we’re not allowed to refuse? I clutch my binder tightly and ease in behind her desk.
As soon as the door shuts behind the last student Mrs. Richards begins. “Now, the counselor and I have been talking and we’re a little bit concerned.” I tense up. Anything involving the counselor and concern is never good. “You’re fine academically, more than fine actually. But your cooperation skills are very underdeveloped, at least in my class.” She smiles at me sympathetically. “Every project we’ve done in here, you’ve done alone, or at least done all the work yourself. And that’s a problem, even more so once you enter into the business world. So we were hoping that this time, you could let someone else lead the project. Teamwork is so important, and you never know what someone else will come up with.”
Mrs. Richards looks at me hopefully, as if I actually have a say in this. What else can I do? With a sigh, I nod glumly, hating myself and Mrs. Richards for doing this.
“Thank you Bethany!” she says, squeezing my hand. “I’ll write you a pass.”
“Soo…” Valerie drawls lazily. “Any ideas on a topic?” She doodles a butterfly on her sketch pad.
“I still love your idea, Valerie!” Emmy squeals.
Around me, students are researching, drawing, writing, typing- pretty much anything except for choosing a topic. They managed that days ago. Our group, of course, has been much more interested in gossip than history.
“I don’t know if World War II is a good choice, Valerie,” I say slowly. Personally, I think any topic is over her head, but I don’t say that. She is a popular girl, and popular girls, of course, are of the opinion that everything they do is perfection.
“Of course it is!” Emmy snaps. She glances back up at Valerie for approval, who nods. “World War II is a great project!”
Valerie bats her eyes modestly. “Well, I guess it’s settled then. All in favor?” She and Emmy raise their hands and Valerie looks around in mock surprise. “Ooh, sorry Bethany. Guess you’re outnumbered. Now, obviously, I’ll do the research and write the paper. Emmy, you’re in charge of the poster. And Bethany, you can color in the pictures, ‘kay?”
“Wait, wait,” I say, so startled I forget my promise to Mrs. Richards. “Don’t we need to break the topic down, make it more manageable?”
Emmy and Valerie stare at me, their mascara caked eyes giving them the appearance of owls.
“Uh, no?” Valerie says. “It’s fine.”
“Yeah, Bethany,” Emmy adds. “It’s fine.”
Mrs. Richards glances over and fixes me with a “be a happy team member” glare.
“It’s fine,” I mutter.
So on Monday, when our group presents, it doesn’t surprise me that we get the lowest grade in the class- a solid C-. And it also doesn’t surprise me that Valerie manages to blame me.
“Group did not follow instruction well. Shows lack of research, organization, and creative detail,” Valerie reads aloud. She glares at me. “Lack of creative detail, Bethany! This is all your fault!”
Whatever. This better not be going in my grade book, is all I can say. I followed the instructions to the letter.