I was a quiet child, one of those highly sensitive children who thought silence was full of wonder, and lovely things worthy of whispers. It was never a problem when I was young. I loved reading and could devote hours at a time to a good book. School was a safe, interesting, and happy place. But everything changed in high school.

It wasn’t that I changed; it was that I didn’t. In the classroom, the rules of engagement were all different. Now, instead of good listeners, teachers wanted assertive, highly vocal students. Learning became a competitive rather than cooperative experience. I grew quieter and quieter. I never raised my hand with a question; I never raised my hand with an answer. I did everything expected of me with the course work, but really, it soon became obvious that shy students were invisible.

It got worse before it got better, but I am getting ahead of myself.

My favorite “academic” high school story happened in 10th grade American history. For one semester, two classes combined, and our teachers represented different sides in the Civil War. My regular teacher, Mr. Sanford, represented the North as General Grant; the other teacher was General Lee. Day after day, they explained their sides of the conflict, argued passionately for their ideals, and acted out the Civil War in first person, in front of us. It was fascinating! I drank in every word. I did the homework but read even more, just for the pleasure of it. I felt totally engaged in the subject.

One day, however, General Lee turned angrily on me. He pointed at me with great emphasis. “You know what you do?” he demanded. I looked back at him without the slightest idea of what he was asking of me. He asked again. And again. I finally ventured a response.

“Blush?” I answered with no confidence whatsoever. As a pale strawberry blonde, I did blush quite easily. “NO!” he thundered. “You stare. You watch every move I make.” He paused for effect and then went on in his booming, authoritative Southern accent. “There are DOERS in life, and there are WATCHERS. YOU watch from the sidelines.” He launched into sharp criticism of students, supposedly like me.

The following day, or maybe the following week, we had the biggest test of the year. Our two teachers warned and encouraged and threatened us. Almost half of the combined class failed. While returning our tests, General Lee ranted and roared at us lazy, good-for-nothing students for a while. Then abruptly, he changed direction. “One student…one student in here actually paid attention, actually listened to the lectures, actually thought about it, actually used some creative reasoning. One! One in 63! While most of you failed, one student scored 100%! I don’t know which one of you performed so beautifully, but I’d like everybody to recognize her now.”

General Lee did not know my name, so when I raised my hand, (from the sidelines) he was visibly surprised. It was a sweet victory. I didn’t say a word, but I’m certain I must have blushed again.

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  • Kim Stewart

    This is what I call a “taste good” moment. Love it.

  • Donna Rowe

    But, of course! You actually paid attention, unlike all those “doers”! Congratulations on your sweet victory!

  • Melanie Tumminello

    Ah. Sounds like General Lee confused doers with talkers. Enjoyed your story!

  • Jack

    This is so great! Thanks for sharing your quiet victory. I bet you thought of a lot of responses that were never spoken. Your test score spoke. Ha! All in time…..

  • Jenn M

    Love it!!!

  • Marie Keefe

    I am silently cheering for your high school self 🙂