The Dreaded F

D. E. Larsen, DVM

Many people probably go through their school years without ever receiving a failing grade. In my twenty years of school, I had three failing grades.

I started early. My first F was given on a page of a writing book in the second grade.

Mrs. Yokum was a vial woman, in my view. She pulled my hair on more than one occasion, and paddling boys with a book seemed to be her hobby. To my knowledge, she never paddled a girl, and I think there was some discrimination there.

“On this page, I want you to practice your letters, staying within the lines and making your letters like the ones at the top of the page,” Mrs. Yokum said as she explained the assignment. These were new writing booklets, and we were reminded often of how lucky we were to have them. “And on this page, I want you to skip a line before starting a new line.”

That was simple enough, but if these were such precious booklets, why waste all that paper by skipping a line. Besides, I could use every line and still get it done with the other kids.

We were at the writing table. The entire second-grade class, all eight of us, were lined up on each side of the table. We were busy writing, just like the teacher had instructed. Mrs. Yokum came along behind us and watched over our shoulders.

When she came up behind me, she stopped and leaned over to look at how I had made full use of the page by using every line. She grabbed my hair and yanked my head back and forth several times. I was used to having my head batted by Dad once in a while, and I could duck and avoid those blows most of the time. This old witch cheated and grabbed my hair.

“I told you to skip a line,” Mrs. Yokum almost shouted.

“Yes, but!” I started to say before she pulled me out of my chair by my arm, grabbed my writing book, and hauled me up to her desk.

“I told you to skip a line, and you wrote on every line,” Mrs. Yokum said, still talking in a loud and cross voice. “You need to learn to follow instructions.”

She took her red pencil and put a large red x that covered the entire page. Then she marked the page with a large F.

“Now, take this book back to your desk and wait for the other kids to finish their assignment,” Mrs. Yokum instructed.

I bore those scars for weeks. Well, at least for an hour or two. 

It was several weeks later that we had completed the booklets. We were given the books to take home for our parents to see. On the bus ride home, I tore out that offending page and tossed it out the window. And that was that.

My next F came in the spring quarter of my senior year in high school. It was in my mechanical drawing class. I had straight As in that class, and after three quarters, I had completed the year’s course work. 

“This last quarter, I want you to do a project of a commercial nature,” Mr. Hayes said as he stood in front of my drawing table. “That will give you a glimpse of working for a client and doing a complex project.”

“I have a lot of things going on with the end of the school year,” I said. “Maybe it would be better if I just helped with the other kids in the classroom.”

“The French class needs a cabinet for holding their tapes,” Mr. Hayes said. “I think you would get more out of doing that project than you would by fiddling around in class. You can go up there tomorrow and talk with Mr. Sorenson. You will need to make some notes as to their needs and go from there.”

That sounded simple, but the guy wanted a large complex cabinet with a lazy susan and a lot of drawers. It was more of a project than I wanted to do, and I doubted if the wood shop would be up to making it.

So I made some notes and fiddled with some sketches, and in those last nine weeks of my senior year, I didn’t accomplish must on that project.

Mr. Hayes gave me an F for the quarter. That lowered my semester grade to a C, which came close to preventing me from having an honor cord at graduation. 

Everyone with a three-point grade point average or above was given an honor cord. My final GPA ended up as 3.001. I was the last one on the list to get an honor cord. Mrs. Starr, the senior English teacher and senior advisor had a tear in her eye when she handed me a cord.

My last F was in a History of Western Civilization class when I ventured to Colorado State University in 1964. It resulted from my inexperience in dealing with adding and dropping courses.

I knew from the moment the professor walked out on the stage of the large auditorium classroom that he was a dud. He was dressed to the hilt with a tailored suit and patent leather shoes. He was groomed to be a pretty boy.

Here in a classroom of nearly six hundred students, we were assigned seats. Each of his graduate students was given the task of taking a roll at each lecture. You were marked absent if you were not in your assigned seat at the start of class. Five absences, and you would fail the course.

That wasn’t the worse of it. The guy was a terrible lecturer, and the reading assignments were as dull as they could get. But I endured. Had I known better, I would have dropped the class. 

Then came the first midterm exam. It was an all multiple choice test. I usually do reasonably well on such tests, but this one proved difficult.

The results of the midterm test were disastrous. A full eighty percent of the class failed the midterm. This joker of a professor went ballistic, and he blamed everyone except himself.

“If you jokers don’t want to come to class, that is fine,” the derelict professor says as he throws his attendance book across the stage, with pages flying everywhere. “I don’t care if you never come to class.”

Don’t come to class. I didn’t need to be told twice. That was it for me. Had I been thinking, I would have dropped the course, but I just quit going to the lectures and quit reading. Life was better.

Maybe a month later, I thought I had better drop by the class and see what was happening. Wouldn’t you know, it was the day for the second midterm. I listened to some of the chatter in the hall before going into the class. Apparently, the lectures had not improved.

I sat in the row I had been assigned at the start of the term. I took the midterm.

I was pleasantly surprised when I passed with a low C. Pretty good, I thought, for not doing a thing. The professor was a little more pleasant with the improved results.

“I am going to make a deal with all of you people who failed the first midterm and passed this midterm,” the professor said. “I will give you whatever you get on the final exam as your grade in this class.”

That seemed reasonable, I thought. I might even read a few chapters, but I wasn’t going to listen to this joker. I continued to avoid the lectures.

Even with the deal, I wasn’t smart enough to make an effort in this class. I apparently didn’t do so good on the final. My grade for the course was an F.

After I was out of the Army, I still needed a history class. At Oregon State University, I took American History. A friend told me to just go to the book store and buy one of those plastic study sheets.

“Just learn everything on the study sheet,” Steve said. “It’s only two pages, don’t worry about the lectures. I think this guy does his tests off of these sheets.”

I followed Steve’s suggestion. Committing two pages to memory was no problem for me, and I got an A in that class.

Photo by Yinan Chen on Pixabay.

Published by d.e.larsen.dvm

Country vet for over 40 years in Sweet Home Oregon. I graduated from Colorado State University in 1975. I practiced in Enumclaw Washington for a year and a half before moving to Sweet Home to start a practice.

3 thoughts on “The Dreaded F

  1. “A full eighty percent of the class failed the midterm. ” That professor sounds like he was as “bad as having two good men gone”, as the old saying goes. There is quite a variety of teaching styles out there. A number of them deserve an “F” for failing the needs of the students.

    I remember that old style writing paper, and having to keep letters within the lines, straight up and down and neat as a pin.

    Liked by 1 person

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