"Mr Smith begrudgingly wrote ‘Good Effort’ at the bottom of the paper. I thought nothing of it."
Miriam Elin Jones didn't have a habit of speaking up, until a particularly bitter injustice in sociology class changed her whole attitude. A funny and charming piece for 100 voices for 100 years about learning how to speak up and how we all need a little bit of Nora Davies every now and then.
Miriam Elin Jones is a PhD candidate at Aberystwyth University, looking at the development of Welsh-langage science fiction (of all things), and about to move from West Wales to South and undertaking a new career as a journalist. She’s also one of the editors of Y Stamp, Welsh-language literary website and magazine (http://ystamp.cymru) and part of Welsh-language, all-female poetry collective Cywion Cranogwen. She’s written stories, poems and plays – most recently for Dirty Protest Productions – in Welsh and English. She is on twitter at @miriamelin23 and her bilingual blog is available to read at http://miriamelinjones.cymru
Nora Davies’ Mock Exam and Mine
I doubt Mr Smith – who’s real name has been changed just incase he catches me ranting here about something that happened nine whole years ago that I still can’t really properly get over and will never forgive him for – even noticed I was sat in his class taking that Sociology mock exam that day. He probably didn’t even blink whilst decorating my essay with his red pen, sort-of following whatever marking scheme he had at hand.
I was that quiet kid, who said nothing, never raised a hand, and sat right in the back row hidden away – more often than not, directly behind the prim and proper Nora Davies (name also changed) who ALWAYS made sure her voice was heard – and I was often forgotten about and left to my own devices. That strange kid with a bad fringe, wearing black nail varnish.
Mr Smith, however, rushing through my mock exam, noted that I deserved 38 marks out of the designated 40 for my timed essay writing, and begrudgingly wrote ‘Good Effort’ at the bottom of the paper.
Which, I thought nothing of, yeah it was a good effort, until I rocked up to class the next day, faced with Nora Davies, yet again in front of me, bragging to the girl next to her about how well she’d done. Over her shoulder, I saw ARDDERCHOG – excellent – in big BOLD letters on the page, with… with… a 35 out of 40.
Now, this was something, I struggled to comprehend. Bad feedback, for a good mark, and glowing feedback, for an alright mark. And the only thing I could come up with was that Mr Smith just didn’t like me.
…and well, he definitely didn’t like me after what I did I next.
The usually noisy class fell eerily silent.
For I – me - had raised my voice.
And as I asked, why my high mark wasn’t considered spectacular enough, Mr Smith’s usually assertive, slightly-cocky manner crumbled, as he couldn’t quibble with the case I’d presented in front of him.
And as I asked, realising I’d shocked all 17 of my fellow students, of whom ranged from footballers, rugby boys, a few girlie girls and a fellow emo kid, into silence, I realised why I’d had that ‘Good Effort’ for my work.
You see, Nora Davies had asked for it. Put herself out there. Practically left an apple at Mr Smith’s desk, she was that type of girl. Striding into the classroom, blonde-highlighted ponytail swishing, announcing she had just left choir practice.
I, on the other hand, dragged my feet about the place, shuffled, too scared, too shy to raise hand, so frightened of saying the wrong thing, getting an incorrect answer even when I knew perfectly well I was right, and yet, I always wanted to found. To be spotted. For someone to notice I could put together a good essay, I could write well.
And no, I won’t forgive nor forget that Mr Smith accidentally – there was malicious intent really - made a mug of me that day. Because it took me that ‘good effort’ at the end of my rather well-written essay (if I do say so myself) for me to raise my voice. For me to start talking. For me to put myself out there for the ‘well dones’ and ‘fantastics’ that I’ve worked for since. I haven’t quite got the essay framed up on my wall – it’s kept safely in a drawer to this day – but I thank Mr Smith, for that mock exam reminds me occasionally, that I’ve always got to ask for – sometimes demand – and go for what I want and deserve.