Behind your back, teachers make notes on you and stick them in a file so other teachers can see what kind of person they think you are. So if the teacher thinks you are a screw-up, she writes down, this kid is a screw-up. And then your next teacher reads that you are a screw-up.
This is known as letting people make up their own minds.
Mrs. Seaward, my junior year English teacher, must have read what Mr. Richards wrote about me. That’s the only way I can figure out why she jumped down my throat at practically nothing. She was primed to do it at the first sign of anti-authority tendencies. For a semester at least, she assigned us “themes” at least 3 times a week. She might as well have just taken her “themes” from the dictionary, since they were one word affairs like “patriotism,” or “honor,” or “education.” But all you had to do was write a paragraph on the “theme,” so it wasn’t so bad. In fact, I enjoyed writing them.
But one night she gave us the theme of “time.” I had already got it into my head that I was a better than average writer maybe because in fact I was a better than average writer. But with this theme, I couldn’t find any way to display my talents. I was super frustrated because all I could do was come up with one cliché after another. I remember feeling that I was angry and that maybe I was stepping across a line, even though I was also trying to solve a problem, when I typed out an entire page of “tick-tocks” and interspersed them with parenthetical remarks like tick-tock (time flies) tick-tock or tick-tock (tempus fugit—since I was taking Latin) tick-tock or tock-tick (time heals all wounds).
So this teacher calls me back into her little cubby hole of an office space and tells me that if I ever again submit a paper like this she will have me kicked out of her class. And then she says, “You are just a rebel without a cause.” I was a bit flattered because I have always felt it was better to be something than nothing. And being a rebel without a cause seemed more romantic than simply being insolent. But I didn’t know what she was talking about because I was unaware of the movie with that title. When I did see the movie I couldn’t believe it; she was comparing me to what we called “hoods” or “juvenile delinquents.”
No one was less a hood than I. Crossing the police scared the living piss out of me. And I didn’t have a car to try to crash into somebody else with. I thought James Dean was a fucking spoiled brat. All my fellow students thought I was the most proper guy alive; that’s why the guys on the basketball team didn’t invite me to get drunk and drive around knocking off rear view mirrors with a hammer. They knew I wouldn’t do it. Nobody knew me really. I wasn’t a damn James Dean and I wasn’t Mr. Proper either or else I wouldn’t have a father who seemed to want to kill me or teachers accusing me of being a rebel without a cause.
I was one confused puppy.