When I was young my parents moved around a lot (for various reasons, most of them having to do with alcoholism) and as a result I ended up attending several different elementary schools – sometimes we would show up mid-term at these new schools. No one seemed to have the same curriculum so besides having to make new friends and get used to the new surroundings I also had to figure out what the heck it was that I was supposed to have been taught already.
This became a problem for me when a teacher asked everyone to read a paragraph or two from a story. The two kids before me each read a bit, I have no idea what they read I was busy trying to figure out what the hell a paragraph was. It was my turn and I still didn’t know what one was so I just started reading.
As I read I went through the information in my mind trying to ascertain if I’d been taught this and forgotten already or if this was an entirely new word and was baffled. All this thinking in my head had me distracted so words that I knew how to pronounce tied my tongue in knots and made me feel more insecure than before. Not only did I not know what a paragraph was, but now all the other kids think I’m a moron. Great way to start a new school. As I still had no clue what a paragraph was I just kept reading and reading and reading – finally I was so embarrassed that I stopped in the middle of a particularly long (what I was to discover later) paragraph.
There was an eerie silence in the classroom then. I imagine they all wondered if I was going to keep reading, having heard me stumble through several paragraphs poorly they probably hoped not. Eventually the teacher must have nodded to the girl behind me and she picked up where I dropped the ball. I was mortified, I recognized that I screwed up, the silence and awkwardness was too much for me.
Eventually I did learn what a paragraph was, I don’t think anyone ever set me down to tell me it was just a general observation of other classes. Today when I’m in a meeting and reading out loud I flash back to that morning class and still feel a sense of calamity and chaos spread through me – but at least I know when to stop now.