Saturday, May 23, 2009

Let's talk about... Student of the Week.

In the fifth grade I had a teacher named Mrs. Alexander. I can remember my teachers names all way back till about fourth grade by this point and I'm not sure how far back other people can remember but considering I'm about 21 and I don't blank back a good... ten years now, I'd say I'm doing pretty good.

But I was talking about Mrs. Alexander.

I'm talking about her because like most primary school teachers, she had an activity that was meant to boost her pupils' self esteem by choosing one amongst them to become student of the week.

Ah, student of the week. It was a hell of a title because it implied that whoever was chosen was the most special of them in the entire class room, nay the school, NAY THE WORLD! Could you imagine how special that student would be? It wouldn't matter how inferior you may have viewed yourself in the mirror or how other students would treat you on the playground or at lunch or during group time. That shit was unimportant! Being student of the week transcended that trivial grade school nonsense that would make other kids feel bad about themselves. It was magnificent!

A young Ramon Villalobos would hide his anticipation for weeks and then months until it was his turn to take his rightful place in front of the Recess lines. He would daydream while other students got to keep a journal of the dirty stuffed mascot (Bernie) that the student of the week would take in his or her charge about the far more magnificent journal entries he would transcribe.

There would be no mind-numbingly mundane adventures of a family trip to grandma's house or an afternoon at the park watching siblings play baseball in the the inconsequential town little leagues. That was kid stuff! A young Ramon Villalobos thought tirelessly about the things he saw on TV and transpose himself into the blatant Blair Witch Project rip off specials about aliens and come up with a fantastical adventure that would blow the entire fifth grade class away. It would come time for them to write special compliments about him and draw pictures for him and the other students would pontificate about how cool he was, how funny he was, and of course, how good of a friend he was. Sure, when it was time to write compliments for his classmates, there was always a feeling of awkwardness as he always got the sneaking suspicion that the other kids in class didn't like him or trust him. He would scribble something and try to relate his compliment to the story they had shared in front of class. He'd write, "That sounded fun. You're[sic] story was good. You are a good student of the week. I hope you have a good week last week." Like the unintelligible little liar the public school system had brought him up to be and hope whoever was on the receiving end of the compliment didn't notice his insincerity too much. That they didn't realize that the story sounded boring, that it was awful, that he or she was in fact a HORRIBLE student of the week, and that he could give a crap what kind of week they had. He'd squirm as they would receive a bound book of compliments that following Monday of class and it was time to choose a new student of the week.

How Mrs. Alexander appointed a student of the week always seemed to mystify me. It was seemingly random but such an important decision could not have been handled with such indifference. She would have been toying with fate to choose a name out of the hat. No, there was a method of her madness that always evaded me. Until, of course, I was chosen. At that point I understood that with two months left of school, she had ran out of truly special students and was scraping at the bottom of the barrel before she could end the charade and rack her brain for other ways to fill an elementary school week that could keep the students busy while she sat in a corner wondering why she had a doctorate in Mathematics. I remember finally being chosen after my equally uninteresting friends and even after Anthony, one of the bigger class misfits. My only saving grace was that I was not chosen after Heather, easily the biggest reject in the fifth grade. No, two months away from the cut off point was good enough for me.

Unfortunately, the stuffed animal adventure was not in the cards for me and I had to hope my own natural charisma would shine through in my less than exciting retelling of my week spent with Bernie. To this day, I forget exactly what happened with me and that damned sack of disease ridden cotton but I do know that whatever it was that happen, I didn't sell it to the best of my abilities. I was dead on my feet, floundering as a sea of fifth graders stared at me bored, heads tipping back and I tried to pass the time allotted for student of the week.

And I did.

The real tragedy of my tenure as student of the week was still to come though. I knew that I should expect my book of compliments to be filled with thoughtless gestures, obligatory kudos that came with being the student of the week but I didn't earn through being a legitimately interesting person. But that's not really what happened. Yes there were a few dollar store sentiments (the same I scribbled out on a weekly basis) in the stack of recycled line paper, but to my surprise a number of students commented about what a great artist I was. How fantastic I could draw. How they wished they had my talent.

But I didn't buy it.

I probably never will.

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