Ten Minutes

I’m in a write-in. No — scratch that — I am hosting a write-in, but everyone who has sense during this time of quiet and isolation and social distancing, and not having to stick to the schedules and structures of “the man” has opted to sleep in today. Or maybe they are doing their actual work. I don’t know. All I know is that I have ten minutes left to the write-in, I have revised the one story I thought would take me the whole hour, and tweaked another. I looked at the clock and saw there are still ten minutes left.

What can one write in ten minutes?
I decided to open a draft here on the blog to find out. It was a moment like this in which the letter to no one really caught a special kind of fire.

I remember I was in high school, taking one of my Regents exams (so happy to read they have been cancelled this year, by the way — that decision took way too long to come to fruition!). Since I went to a private school, they could add all kinds of rules to the state exams that — years later, as a public school educator — I came to lern were completely their own fabrication. One such rule was that you were not permitted to leave the testing room before three hours had elapsed.

When I became a high school math teacher, I so wished I could force my students to do the same. So many rushed to be finished as if the mere presence of the exam in front of them was sucking out their life force. Too many kids missed out on sorely needed exam points to grant them the passing grade needed for graduation simply because they didn’t give it enough time.I’d beg, I’d plead, I’d joke and do a dog and pony show to get them to sit back down just one more time to take a look, when all my own teachers ever had to do was say, “You’re not going anywhere.”

I was cool with not going anywhere — it was unobstructed reading time. I always had a book with me. In high school there was always a Stephen King collection, or something wildly woo woo like The Celestine Prophecy tucked under my desk for these ever present mini sentences of capitol punishment.

But there was this one guy, that the power of time, distance, and a life lived, has brought me to the conclusion that this guy simply did not like me. It was an unfathomable thought at the time that a teacher who knew so little about me could even form an opinion about me, but our infrequent connections always ended in some slight to me, so he either didn’t like me, or he was an extreme asshole, in general.

(By the way, if anyone’s counting, this is where my ten minutes are up)

So… this guy was my proctor for one of my Regents exams — and I do believe this was one of our first ever interactions. I finished my exam early. He told me I couldn’t leave, so I should keep my test. I was confident in my exam probably to a near point of arrogance, but what teenager knows that is even happening? I told him I knew I had to stay, and that I was going to read.

He didn’t like that.

He didn’t like that I wouldn’t just take the test paper back like he told me to.

He definitely didn’t like that I was more confident in my test-taking ability than obliged to acquiesce to his authority.

He told me I was not permitted to have any non-testing materials on my desk for the entirety of the three hours.

This was a new — and never again implemented — rule in a Regents exam as far as I knew. Once the exam was handed in, I should have been able to read a non-relevant novel. However, I was a good girl rule follower, so I said, “Okay,” walked back to my desk and began to work possibly even harder than I had on the exam. On what? Well, there was still a bunch of scrap paper on my desk, and at least a ream more on the proctor’s desk/

I spent the rest of the time writing a letter. It was an epic letter to no one. I figured I’d let my friends decide who wanted it, or they could share it among themselves. I raised my hand asking for extra scrap as the time elapsed and filled it all. The proctor walked by a couple of times, glancing down at my desk, trying to decipher what I was doing, but I was in one of those secure head-on-the-desk/arms-covering-everything intense writing poses.

As the three hours came to a conclusion, I was excited and even happy that I hadn’t had the time to read. I was proud of what I had created and I couldn’t wait to pass it among friends. I sat back, put my papers in order, numbering the pages, and looking at my masterpiece. As I stood them on end to tap them on my desk into one neat rectangle, the proctor grabbed them out of my hands, “No testing materials may leave the testing room.”

You know he smiled, right? The small man won. The girl who was intelligent enough to confidently finish her exam early, who carried her own reading for pleasure, and who took joy in an hour or so to write — she needed to be put in her place.

I wish it was the only time he had the opportunity to do that.

It wasn’t, and all I can say about that, is that I feel damn lucky that in all four years I was in that school, I never had him as my own teacher. I can’t imagine what kind of lasting effect a person like that could have had on me then.


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