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  • When I was in primary school I struggled.
    I had ideas, observed things, tried to explain them to myself and to others. It wasn't easy.

    I went to secondary school. It was not much fun. I liked english though, and woodwork and biology. I loved to write. I hated the rest, maths, particularly. Well apart from art, I liked art, but I couldn't do that either.

    I got into trouble often for winding up my teachers.

    The fateful day, the one where it all came to an end, was when I submitted my essay on 'what I did at the weekend'.

    I got 27 out of 30 for it. The three marks off I was told were for "things that are not true" and they were underlined in red in the text so that I "would learn from my errors".

    1. I wrote that I'd seen salmon under the ice in the river I grew up beside. A river in which I had been swimming since childhood, canoed on using home-made canoes, seen in raging spate with trees sailing down, watched otters playing in, and one year diving deep into a small rocky pool I found a cannonball in, rusted and pockmarked, but a cannonball for sure. One bitter winter day my friend and I cycled on the river for miles on impossibly thick ice and saw salmon swimming under the frozen surface. Several times. We chased them in delight, sliding on our stomachs faces pressed hard to the cold surface watching their chillshimmer beneath. The teacher told me I was wrong, that salmon don't swim under ice.

    2. I wrote that I'd seen wood pigeons on a snow covered branch. In the glen with the river that I grew up beside. A glen where I'd watched golden eagles at their eyrie, and could tell them apart from buzzards by their slow stately motion on high. Where I'd seen tawny owls in the last fading glow of day as night stole in, as I walked in the forest returning from a high ridge walk in winter. I saw wood pigeons roosting in the snowy trees that evening too, a plume of snow drifting featherlike from their settling. The teacher told me I was wrong, that you don't get wood pigeons in winter.

    3. I wrote that I'd seen a bow around the moon one winter night. In the glen, beside the river where I grew up and played. The glen I'd helped the shepherd in for several years, driving his sheep down each evening and through the big gate. The glen I looked out of my house window towards, and could watch deer wandering on it's high ridges. The glen I knew from childhood in all it's moods. And one bitter evening the moon was full at the top of the glen, high and clear, and arching over it was a bow, a moonbow. Clear and beautiful, a light bridge across the velvet night. The teacher told me I was wrong that you only get bows in the summer, and they are caused by the sun.

    I asked my teacher why I'd been marked down for things that were correct, things everyone knew were correct.
    She would not tell me.
    I pressed her.
    She said teachers swap essays for marking so another teacher marked my essay.
    I asked her to tell me which teacher did the marking so that I could go and speak to the person.
    She would not tell me.
    I pressed her.
    She got angry.
    I pressed her some more.
    She got angrier.
    Finally she got very angry gave me a telling off and said, "What do you expect, full marks? Do you child, well do you? We wont give you full marks, ever. How do you think it will make the other pupils feel? Go and sit down! It's over."

    I did. I sat down. And I knew, it was over. I didn't know how the other pupils felt, but I knew how I felt.

    I also knew that I'd learned the lesson they had hoped I would. The one about "learning from my errors".

    The grave error I made was to believe that all teachers know what they are talking about.

    They taught me very successfully to discriminate.

    So I did. And left.
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