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The Incorrect Teacher

One time when I was in third grade (about age 9), we were reading a story together in class. The story was about a little boy who did something (no idea what) which wound up getting him commended by the mayor.

The only part I really remember, because it pertains to the following incident, is that as part of the boy’s commendation, the mayor said “he will receive £50 (loud applause)”.

After we finished reading the story, one girl in the class raised her hand and asked “what is that weird L-looking thing next to the 50 there?”

The teacher said “if you look right afterward, you see those curvy lines? Those are called parentheses. What’s in the parentheses explains what’s before it. So “£50” means “loud applause”.

I was absolutely taken aback. Even as a third grader my thirst for knowledge was nigh-unquenchable, and I knew that the £ was the British equivalent of the American $. I was cognizant enough to know that not everyone would be aware of this fact, but furthermore it baffled my mind how anyone could think that “£50” could possibly mean “loud applause”. What would the “50” denote in that case? The intensity of the applause? I just sat there for a second processing the wrongness of the situation.

But once I had muddled my way out of this mire, an even greater pit yawned before me: my teacher was wrong. This woman whom I regarded as the font of all knowledge was not just wrong but bafflingly wrong without a seeming shred of self-awareness. She had answered so confidently, so matter-of-factly.

Finally I raised my hand. I said as politely as I knew how, “excuse me, I think that symbol is what they use for money. That means he received 50 pounds, and the crowd applauded in response”. I doubt I was fully that articulate, but (again, for a third grader) I was reasonably well-spoken.

To my immense relief, and her credit, the teacher responded with “you may be right” and kept the class moving. I hadn’t expected praise, or validation…the elimination of misinformation (and me not getting in trouble for correcting the teacher) was all I hoped for.

That event did stick with me, though. It was the first time I remembered clearly and unequivocally a teacher being wrong. And not just wrong, but incomprehensibly, confidently wrong.

Turns out they’re human just like the rest of us. Who knew?

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