Mike on Mike: Failures and Firsts

By the time I was in sixth grade, my elementary school had instituted the Accelerated Reader (AR) Program. Without going into unnessiary detail, the program assigned point values to books, and offered the full or a prorated portion of the book’s points for taking a quiz on it upon its completion.

The system, which the school hoped to use to gauge student’s reading comprehension, as well as to encourage reading in general was put into place, and prizes were promised for first, second, and third place readers.

This system is the reason i learned to read books quickly. This system is the reason I learned to pay attention to the “important” details of stories without having to read an entire story. This system made me a better and a worse reader at once. This system meant I, as a sixth grader, was scrounging for books at an eigth and ninth grade level because I was desperate for their increased point values, and to get a one up on my fellow students (some of who had incredibly high point values because they had begun over the summer).

I read books that were not age appropriate. I was often confused by what i was reading. I did not stop. By the end of the year, I was officially reading at a ninth grade level, and could finish a lengthy chapter book in under two days. I do not believe i even placed in the 1999-2000 AR Program. My accomplishments were unremarkable; and what’s more, I had stopped absorbing every detail of a book, and instead, looked to be able to identify “the questions that the AR program would ask”.

7th grade started High School. English 7R, which I had for homeroom, was taught by the eccentric and shifty Ms. Cynthia Woodhouse, who was the Advisor to the Class of 2006. Our first writing assignment was to write an essay about a fond memory we had.

I remember being smug. I remember thinking that I was going to write the best essay in the class, and that she would compliment me about it…just like all of my other teachers had. It was the first writing assignment I’d ever failed in my life.

Ms. Woodhouse tore into one of my most personal, and happiest memories because I had failed to demonstrate anything that resembled coherence. In doing so, she taught me a valuable lesson that I would constantly need to relearn: that is, to treat every writing assignment with care. No one knows how you might write, and to spend less time than a particular piece deserves would only hurt it. I worked hard throughout the year to improve, and by the end of the year my written assignments were graded at the top of the class. But there was more.

Ms. Woodhouse had a knack for teaching some awful books. To this day, I must recall The Witch of Blackberry Pond as the most boring book I have ever attempted to read. It was the first book I refused to read. (There would be more.) However, there were bright spots (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer) and overall, the year went well.

In the summer of 7th grade, however, I would encounter something that would change the way I looked at words, poetry, and my own written words forever. That something was rap music.

FYI: Some notable books I read during the AR Program in 6th grade:

Gentle Ben
The Chocolate War
The Contender
Go Ask Alice
The Perks of Being A Wallflower
Lord of the Flies