Feb 05

My Traumatic D+

When I was in fifth grade, we had an assignment were we had to plan for an imaginary trip to another country.

I was an extremely bright and diligent student, and moreover, I’d planned for trips before.  My family took us camping every year.  My responsibility on camping trips was to make a list of the clothes I needed, based on how cold it was going to be, and then pack them. This didn’t seem like that much of a project, so  I went to the teacher and asked for clarification.

Me: “What are we supposed to do, exactly?”

Teacher: “Well, you’re taking a trip to Greece.  You need to learn something about Greece. Use those books over there.”

Me: “What time of year will I go?”  Climate could play a role in clothing selection.

Teacher: “It doesn’t matter.”

By now I figured that the assignment was to use the books to make out a packing list.  So for my project, I looked up the average temperatures. Then, I did a neat and tidy list of the clothes I would buy to take on the trip, given a hypothetical itinerary in March.  I referenced the catalogue number, and had a budget estimate. I thought I did a pretty good job. It was neat and tidy. I even drew a Greek flag on the front of the paper.

So when I got my paper back, I was traumatized to see the grade.


I went to talk to the teacher about it, and she pointed out all the things I hadn’t done. I hadn’t mentioned anything about the Acropolis, or Delphi, or Santorini, or the famous monasteries, or anything else that a tourist might like to see.  I had barely mentioned anything about the culture, though I might have written down that their currency was the drachma.  I tried to point out that she hadn’t said anything about needing those things, and she said that everyone else figured out what they were supposed to do, so the misunderstanding was clearly my fault.

I was crushed.  I went to the bathroom and cried for a while. It was all so patently UNFAIR, that I’ve held on to this story for decades.

Ten years later, I was an exchange student in Germany, and I decided that instead of going home for Christmas, I would take a trip to a European country I hadn’t visited. I chose Greece.  Here’s what I did to prepare for the trip:

Pack Clothes.

It was fine.  I picked up maps on the way. I talked to people, I figured out how to catch busses and trains from one place to another.  I think I may even have bought a guidebook for this trip (I often didn’t, on my other trips.  “Can I look at your guidebook” is a great conversation starter.) I met some great people that I’m still friends with today.

You can plan out all the details of a trip, in fact, planning can be half the fun, but all you really need is to have the basics, and the courage to figure things out on the way. That’s really the moral of the story.

Or maybe the moral of the story is that when someone treats you unfairly, the hurt can linger for decades.  I still get bitter when I think about it.


  1. I had an english teacher in 9th grade that told us to write our epitaph. It seemed like a lame exercise so I asked for clarification. She was not looking for the information in an obituary, she was looking for something else more creative. And it was supposed to be several hundred words long. I looked up the definition of epitaph but it seemed to closely related to the things she said she didn’t want to see. So, I decided since this was an english class and was supposed to be a creative assignment, she it must mean that she was looking for something “creative.” If not, then it seems like the exercise would be a complete waste of time. So, I wrote a third person narrative that explored pschological issues leading up to my “death.” The day we turned in the assignment, she read them out loud (anonomously, thank God). Everyone else basically had a hundred word obituary and when she read mine she stopped after the first paragraph and commented that this student obviously didn’t understand the assignment. I was embarrassed as hell, but I’m still angry about it to this day because as far as I’m concerned, I did what every student should have done. Otherwise it was a completely useless assignment.

    Teachers that are too dense to adequately explain their expectations are also the ones that are too dense to appreciate valid alternatives. Being different from the crowd is NOT evidence of failure.

    • Kater on February 7, 2011 at 10:35 pm

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who holds these grudges for so long.

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