Fifth Grade: A Confusing Year

Adults are complicated.

by Deedra Abboud in Mindset, Social Views
July 23, 2016 0 comments

My fifth-grade year the school had added a new building. Half of fifth-grade was to be in the middle school building, next to the high school buildings, and the other half would share the building with elementary classes. The middle/high school buildings were completely separate from elementary – about half a mile away.

I really wanted to move to the high school location.

Unfortunately, I was assigned to Mrs. Lahnam’s class, one of the teachers staying in the elementary building.

But I was still excited because I would be in Mrs. Lahnam’s class.

I already knew Mrs. Lahnam – her daughter and my sister were friends. My sister really liked Mrs. Lahnam and was one of her students during her fifth-grade year, so I knew I would enjoy Mrs. Lanham’s class too.

I was in for a surprise.

Unexplained Feelings

Mrs. Lahnam did not like me. I have no idea why. I was constantly in trouble in her class. I missed several recesses in fifth-grade as punishment, which never happened before or after fifth-grade.

If you got in trouble in class, for example for talking when you weren’t supposed to, she wrote your name on the board as a warning. A second offense resulted in a check-mark. One check-mark resulted in having to stay in class while all the other kids went to recess.

I knew Mrs. Lahnam did not like me because I would get my name on the board and even check-marks despite not being the only one talking.

For example, one time my best friend Aimee Winkler was whispering to me. Aimee sat two chairs behind me. I knew Mrs. Lahnam was nearby, just a few feet away hanging pictures on the bulletin board, so I did not respond. Aimee asked me a question, I said ‘yes’ very quietly, and Mrs. Lahnam called my name for talking and promptly wrote my name on the board, then went back to hanging pictures.

Aimee again started calling my name to get my attention. I again ignored her for fear of getting in trouble. Aimee continued to call my name. I finally turned around and said “what?'” quietly. And again Mrs. Lahnam called my name for talking and put a check mark by my name on the board – meaning I would again miss recess.

The same thing often happened with my other best friend Jay Hart. He was a twin and he sat one chair behind me.

Neither Aimee nor Jay ever got their name on the board. It was amazing that Mrs. Lahnam could not ‘hear’ Aimee or Jay when they were talking to me but her ears perked up for any sound I made.

The funny thing was, I was already missing recess voluntarily.


I had become close to the Librarian, Mrs. Galbrieth, and spent every possible moment in the Library talking to Mrs. Galbrieth, reading books, or reorganizing the Card Catalog according to the Dewey Decimal System. I was in love with the Dewey Decimal System, it was so logical and organized.p_v13ak2fekwc1067

I went there instead of recess. I finished my lunch early so I could go to the Library for the rest of lunchtime. During our spelling period, I would do all my spelling sheets in advance so I could spend the rest of the period in the Library.

Mrs. Lahnam always let me go, but she seemed very upset about it. Sometimes she would give me extra spelling sheets to do before she would let me go. The recess punishment seemed to be more focused on keeping me from going to the Library.
Parent-Teacher Conference

I complained to my mom all the time about Mrs. Lahnam not liking me and being mean to me. My mother’s response was always that it was “all in my head” and “what did you do?”

Considering all the research now about our feelings about situations being intimately connected to our expectations and interpretations of a situation, perhaps my mom was ahead of her time – still, as a confused child, the response of ‘it’s all in your head’ was frustrating. I thought she was dismissing my feelings.

I know now that what would have been more helpful is if she had explained to me what thoughts I could replace in my head.

As for the “what did you do?” I always felt my mom was blaming me for everything. It was true that my name got on the board because I had spoken when I was not supposed to, but the situation of Jay and Aimee talking to me first and not getting in trouble, was what I wanted my mom to recognize.

When the parent-teacher conference time came, I begged my mom to go. She worked and it was often difficult for her to make the parent-teacher conferences, so she missed most of them. But I begged and begged for her to go this year. She finally agreed.

I was so excited. I imagined my mom would go to Mrs. Lahnam and I would be vindicated. Either Mrs. Lahnam would tell my mom she did not like me, or how bad I was, and my mom would know I had been telling the truth.

Of course, that is not what happened.

When we entered the room, Mrs. Lahnam went on forever to my mom about what a great student I was and how much she enjoyed having me in her class.

I literally stood there with my mouth open.

My lesson was that vindication was a very elusive concept, rarely attainable, and that people will cover their mistakes by outright lying – like Pinnochio footlong-nose lie.

I never complained about unfair teachers again to my mom.

Instead, I would dream about how things could be different.

For example, we were also divided up among four classes for some subjects. I had one of the other four teachers for Math. She sat the students according to grades – with the highest grades in the front and the lowest grades in the back.

I was in the front row. I had no problems in this class with the subject or the teacher. But she was awful to many of the students – mostly the boys sitting in the back.

I thought, “what do you expect sitting the kids struggling in the back of the class? They are already struggling and then you put them in the back where they are more likely to be distracted? Did she really think being sat in the front of the class, closest to her, was a privilege that would motivate the students to try harder? It made more sense for the highest grades to be sat in the back of the class, because sitting in the back would be a privilege that would motivate students to do better for sure.”

Sometimes the principal would come unannounced into the class and sit in the back of the class to observe. The teachers, of course, were on their best behavior during those times. Any kid who acted up during that time knew the punishment would be harsh later on because they embarrassed the teacher in front of the principal. We knew that because they told us.

I often thought it would be better if the wall facing the hallway was a one-way glass – so the principal could observe the teacher without her knowing it and she would never know when someone might be observing. I was positive that would stop a lot of the bad behavior and unfair treatment by the teachers.
Reading Levels

For reading class, students were also divided into four levels. The four levels were taught separately by the four teachers next to each other on our hallway.

I was in the lowest reading class – a continued result of my first-grade teacher, Mrs. Sutton.

By this time, I loved to read. I read a lot.

Another of my best friends was Joe Belisle We shared a table at the front of the class because there were not enough desks.

I don’t remember much about the class except that one day the teacher took me out of reading class to tell me I was being moved to the fourth level, the highest reading class, because she felt I was too advanced for the lowest level.

I do remember Joe was upset. I remember, as I was packing up my things, Joe said it wasn’t fair because I did not make better grades than him on the reading exams. I do remember he always had a mild competition going with me, always wanting to see my grades. I don’t think I beat him all the time.

What I remember thinking at the time, was 1) adults have their own way of evaluating things that they do not explain and we do not always understand, and 2) hoping this feeling of injustice that Joe had did not affect how he applied himself.

I continued to be friends with Joe for years, and I do believe it did negatively affect him. I am not sure he applied himself as much after that, maybe he no longer saw the point, or maybe not having me at the table being somewhat of a competition, on his part not mine, caused him to loose his motivation.
Valentine’s Day

Another of my friends in fifth grade was Rick Crook. He was a slightly olive-skinned brown-headed slim boy. Rick’s best friend was David Goode.

I had a crush on David. David was a fair-skinned blond-haired boy. I only saw David during reading class, after I was placed in the advanced reading class, because our homeroom was not the same. As an eleven-year-old, thinking I was in love, I would stare at him in class.p_v13ak2fekwc1037

David was a popular boy and all the girls liked him. He had a lot of attention from girls, though I am not sure he was at the age yet where boys were that interested in girls.

For Valentine’s Day, I decided to use all my saved allowance to buy David a giant heart-shaped candy box. I was so excited to bring it to school and give it to him.

I don’t remember how he reacted… maybe because of what happened next.

Our reading teacher and Mrs. Lahnam took me out of class to have a talk with me. It was about how girls shouldn’t buy boys gifts and I should not be trying to buy a boy’s affection.

It went on for a long time. Mostly I was embarrassed and confused.

I couldn’t understand what the big deal was and why it was their business. My mom knew I had bought the gift. I had also bought valentine’s cards for all the kids in my class, as required by the school.

I don’t remember spending much time thinking about David after that. I was just embarrassed. Maybe he was too. But I remained friends with Rick, so we must have continued to interact sometimes.

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