Two nights ago, my eighth grade U.S. history teacher posted a Facebook status update that immediately transported me to Memory Lane: “Constitution Test on Thursday. Could be a bloodbath.”
The post, which received nearly 90 “likes” and more than 30 comments, had a high engagement rate for a reason. A chunk of his Facebook friends are former students and many of them took this post as an opportunity to reflect upon their own experiences with the unforgettable, ever-intimidating Constitution Test, which we were all required to pass with a “C” before graduating from the middle school.
After checking out some of the other comments, my immediate response was to laugh about the funny aspects of the exam: Our instructor’s decision to play “It’s Not Unusual” before distributing the test, our humorous one-on-one in-class study sessions, and my teacher’s helpful phrase, “When in doubt, 2/3rds!”
Of course, less-than-amusing memories surfaced right after I sent a peppy message of gratitude to my former instructor. Ten years ago, when I took the Constitution Test, I was not in a happy place. My grades were poor, my friends unpredictable and fair-weather, and spirits low. Most everyone I know disliked middle school, but words could never convey the level of hatred I had for that time of my life. Those years were dreadful, not just because of the bullying I endured, but because I truly believed I’d never make anything of myself. That was before I heard the debatable (but in my opinion, accurate) quote, “There is no surer formula for failure in life than success in high school.” (h/t Tumblr, Cindi Leive)
If only this reality had been relayed to me after I failed the Constitution Test the first time around. The school made a huge deal about passing the exam, as it was our only way out of the hellhole that was SVMS (FYI, I adored my teachers, many of which were the best educators out there, just not the school itself). If we didn’t get a “C” or higher on the first try, our parents would be notified over the phone.
And mine were. My father waited until dinnertime to mention that he’d gotten a call from the school that day revealing that I’d earned an “F” on the test. The second he delivered the news, I threw my head into my hands and burst into tears at the table. Though usually quick to defend me, my dad showed no sympathy or slack when I lost composure. He wasn’t angry, he said, but concerned.
“She’s not college material,” he said to my mom, as if I was not in the room. “Laura, you should start taking the bus to Cabrillo Community College because that’s where you’re going to end up going.”
A little tough love was fine, especially from my dad, the good cop in our household. As earlier stated, he was more disturbed than upset, and he feared I suffered from ADD. He set up a meeting with the school guidance counselor, who knew me all too well from my constant stream of reports on mean classmates and assured my dad that I was not a candidate for ADD. I was simply lazy and employed ineffective study habits.
With that, my history instructor agreed to provide me with free tutor sessions three times a week to prepare me to take the exam again. He did the same for several other students who had done miserably on the test. Though I was initially embarrassed about my performance, it was clear from the start that my instructor thought no less of me after I got schooled by the Constitution. He didn’t wag his finger at me for not paying attention in class or studying all the wrong concepts. It was what it was, and I walked away from the second round with a “B+”. It didn’t bear a “98%!” like my best friend Crystal’s exam, which she’d aced the first time around, but was a test worth keeping. My mother still has it filed away in one of my childhood memory boxes.
Ten years later, I’m not ashamed to admit that I tanked a test when the majority of my class was ready for it. At the time, I worried that bombing the exam proved all the hurtful things my schoolmates had ever said about me: That I was destined to be a reject for the rest of my life and never do anything of value. Now that I’m 23 and working in a field that means the world to me, I’m relieved to say that slip-ups of the past did not keep me down or discourage me from taking risks. Though it didn’t seem like it at the time, I know now that one mistake — past or present — does not have to define me.