Precious Mary Pratt sat in her desk staring out of the windows, watching the sun glint off the swing set on the playground, dreaming about summer. "Mary Pratt," a sharp voice yanked her back to first grade, "your worksheet doesn't even have your name on it. Get busy."
Mary Pratt scooted the paper toward her with her index finger. It looked just exactly like the ones from yesterday and the day before and all the days since September; white paper with black type. Why did it make Mrs. Crowley so happy for kids to process all these papers?
Mary Pratt pictured Mrs. Crowley's whole house wallpapered with worksheets that all started the same
all completed by the hundreds of first-graders Mrs. Crowley had taught since Mount Olympus pushed its way out of the earth's stony crust. Although it was a horrible thought, secretly Mary Pratt sort of kind of wanted to lay her eyes on Mrs. Crowley's drab dÃ©cor; if only for affirmation of her suspicions about Mrs. Crowley's motivations.
The instructions for the sheet presently marring not only the surface of Mary Pratt's desk, but also her daydream, said, Read the following passage very carefully, then answer the questions . Mrs. Crowley demanded that everyone use his or her best handwriting, as well.
Mary Pratt slumped in her seat. She knew whatever handwriting she pulled out of her pencil box, it would not be best enough for Mrs. Crowley. Mary Pratt's mother for some reason couldn't find the "Best Handwriting" brand of pencils. And only the best handwriting papers got plastered on the walls in the hallway outside of the classroom; which meant, to Mary Pratt, that the rest covered the walls of Mrs. Crowley's home.
At Mrs. Crowley's prompting, Mary Pratt began to read the short passage:
I like to sit on the grass and look at the sky. So many beautiful clouds float by. I play a game. I give each cloud a name. Here comes a cloud that looks like a horse. Here comes a butterfly cloud. Now a flower cloud is floating past me. It would be such fun to float like a cloud.
Mary Pratt considered the first question: What is green in this story? She peeked around at her classmates' papers and, spying Robby Robert's smudged up work thought, The booger on Robby's page , but then wrote grass in the blank.
The second question asked, What is the game? To trick Mrs. Crowley into believing I used my best handwriting , MP mused, then wrote, Give each cloud a name.
Number three said, What would be such fun? This particular question burned Mary Pratt right up on the inside. She couldn't believe the cruelty of Mrs. Crowley. Mrs. Crowley knew what would be such fun! Going outside and looking at real clouds, instead of sitting in a desk reading about them! Nonetheless, Mary Pratt dutifully filled in the blank with, Flote like a cloud .
Question four, the last question on the page, read, Name three clouds in this story . Seeing she was nearly finished, Mary Pratt's eyes lit up. Mary Pratt reflected on the paragraph and then very carefully, in an attempt at her best handwriting, named the horse, butterfly, and flower clouds. She penciled, Bob, Jenny, and Jack .
Mrs. Crowley didn't hang Mary Pratt's worksheet on the wall in the hallway, and she didn't work it into her kitchen wallpaper scheme. Mary Pratt's paper now graces the bulletin board in the teacher workroom, and Mary Pratt is back to anticipating summer vacation.
(Lucy Adams is a syndicated columnist, freelance writer, and author of If Mama Don't Laugh, It Ain't Funny. She lives in Thomson, GA. Contact Lucy at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit her Web site, www.IfMama.com.)