How a Writer Fails 9th Grade English

Failing 9th grade G&T English was the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever done. Well, right up until the dozens of more-embarrassing things I’ve done since then. Nineteen years later I’m finally comfortable telling this tale. I’m finally over it.

For those who aren’t familiar with Maryland Public School’s class hierarchy, G&T is an acronym for “Gifted & Talented”, only for the smartest, socially awkward kids. Below that, “Honors”, for wealthy kids who play lacrosse. Next was “Standard” for your regular dipshits. And below that various levels for what we kids called “retarded”.

Ninth grade G&T English was taught by Mrs. Ikeler, an unhappy, angry woman notorious for busting female students smoking in the lavatories. She narc’d on girls en masse to appease the school principal, because she too, was a smoker.

Between classes and lunch, she and another English teacher would escape the school premises in her Honda to inhale a few cigs at Bunker Hill. We know this because Bunker Hill was where students played hooky and often got busted by Mrs. Ikeler. Or vice versa.

Few alumni have fond memories of Mrs. Ikeler. Rumors circulated that an older kid entered her classroom during a school play and shit in her drawer. I was impressed! Impressed that someone can shit like that on command. I need 20 minutes of privacy in my own bathroom. Regardless, Mrs. Ikeler deserved it. Though our all-white school’s black janitor, who cleaned it up, definitely didn’t deserve it.

Before I continue, I must admit I’m worried Ms. Ikeler will read this. I’m not worried she’ll be offended by comments, I’m worried about my grammar. “THIS IS WHY I FLUNKED YOU!! AUTHOR MY ASS!”

Age 14 was definitely the hardest year of my youth. Freshman in high school. Chubby kid. Scared constantly. Loved sports, but sucked at them. No girl friends. Few guy friends. My Morrissey t-shirts didn’t help. A sophomore asked me to homecoming dance, but my parents forbid me due to my poor grades. They thought they were teaching me a lesson, but in reality, I was too frightened to go. This was the perfect excuse.

In middle school I was in honors English but was moved up to G&T by the lovely, hippie English teacher Mrs. Winter. She taught high school creative writing along with middle school English. She had me secretly read “The Catcher in the Rye” as it wasn’t allowed for middler schoolers. I had to get special permission from my parent or guardian.

As if you don’t know already, she promoted me due to my FUCKING STELLAR writing skills, which is apparent for anyone who’s read my book or these words right here. While 8th grade was all about writing, 9th grade G&T English was all about reading. Shakespeare. Lots of Shakespeare.

I wouldn’t wish Shakespeare on my worst enemy. In 2003, under pressure from negative press, Secretary of U.S. Defense Donald Rumsfeld replaced Shakespeare with water-boarding. Lee Harvey Oswald was simply browsing the the Book Depository’s Shakespeare section before firing his gun into the air and accidentally shooting someone.

My 33-year old self can’t even understand modern British-English, let alone a 14-year old me comprehending old-timey British-English. I vividly remember a reading of “Romeo & Juliet” when Mrs. Ikeler burst into laughter during the “Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?” scene. The class was bewildered. She explained Shakespeare’s joke. Still no laughs. Tough crowd. That room could have been mistaken for one of my stand-up appearances.

Are 31% of Baltimore City students illiterate? Or did English teachers scare them off? I love reading, but didn’t realize this until my early 20’s thanks to the garbage they forced on us in school. Throw a vampire book or dragon-tattooed-rape-scene into the curriculum and see that literacy rate skyrocket.

Hereford High School’s principal had never had anyone fail a G&T class. He didn’t know what to do. So in 10th grade I took 9th grade English. Honors. Without the lacrosse skills. That first day of 10th grade, and rest of high school, was humiliating. The 9th graders said, “WHY ARE YOU HERE?” and “YOU’RE IN THE WRONG CLASS!” and “YOU’RE GAY!”

I learned about racism during, what I dubbed, “9th Grade English Class: The Sequel”. Throughout the semester I sat next to a “troubled” foster home Asian girl. She read zero books, wrote zero papers, and did nothing but disrupt the class. She passed. I was pissed. But to be fair, during a poetry reading I recited the lyrics to Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence”. I got a B for that poem, and the class.

Seems like I’ve blamed everything and everyone for failing English except myself. I wish I had a drug or alcohol problem to point my finger at, but alas, I’m just dumb. And lazy. Nineteen years later I’m finally comfortable telling this tale. I’m finally over it.

Oh wait, no I’m not.

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