This I Believe

Natalie - Evansville, Indiana
Entered on September 16, 2008
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I’ve been earning A-minuses since third grade when teachers traded red, silver, and gold stars for the letter grade system. And I hated them, too. They taunt me relentlessly, mocking my desire to excel. “You’re not extraordinary yet,â€? that minus symbol seems to whisper. “You almost got a B.â€? And yet that detested A-minus has helped me reach the heights of academic success.

I’ve come to realize that the A-minus is actually a dare, a subtle challenge from teacher to student. The A acknowledges the student’s talent. “Oh, yes,â€? it says, “you are very good.â€? But with the minus the teacher throws down the gauntlet. The minus is the ‘but’ at the end of the A’s sentence. “Oh, yes, you are very good,â€? the A admits. “But,â€? the minus interjects, “you could be even better.â€?

And with that average students like myself are transformed into intellectual duelists. Through whatever means possible we strive to erase that hideous minus from our records. We revise, we research, we attack with added diligence; anything to prove our talents in the next round. Whether consciously or not, students begin to desperately toil for validation at the first sight of an A-minus.

This is the genius of the A-minus. Once a student realizes that he is pretty good, the desire to prove he is outstanding becomes overwhelming. The A-minus is the perfect combination of compliment and criticism needed to move a student to action.

This is not to say I’ve developed warm feelings for the A-minus. I still abhor seeing the thing on a paper. But this angry passion is vital to the success of the A-minus. If I didn’t hate it so much, I wouldn’t care as deeply. The rage and indignation at that tiny little dash telling me “You’re not quite good enough yetâ€? is the fuel that enables me to edit, revise, and eventually perfect my work.

Some might wonder why, after countless A-minuses, I haven’t accepted what seems obvious: I am not extraordinary. But the promise inherent in the A-minus is not that you can become extraordinary, just that you can improve. The foundation of the A-minus is the promise that you are capable of work more intelligent, more beautiful, and simply more than anything you’ve ever done before.

This gives me great hope, both in myself and in the teachers who refuse to allow me to settle. It assures me that I will never find myself satisfied with mere competence because I have learned that I am capable of exceptional work. And all those previous A-minuses have inspired me to reveal a student more intelligent, a writer more talented, and a woman more confident than I ever expected myself to be.