Connecting with Tom Perrotta’s “Grade My Teacher”

by Ra'Niqua Lee  ·  September 27, 2015

Large shiny autumn leaves on a branchFall is approaching. Here, we say goodbye to sandals and the hot stick of summer as sunlight darkens to brass and the leaves prepare for their final act. Many of us are returning to the classroom, to over-stuffed book bags, overpriced textbooks, and overcrowded parking decks. Our entire semester mapped out in syllabus form.

Such is the case for Vicki Wiggins, the high school math teacher in Tom Perrotta’s “Grade My Teacher,” first published in Five Points Vol. 15, No. 1&2.

Sixth period was endless, Vicki stood by the smartboard, listening to herself drone on about the formula for calculating the volume of a cylinder, but all she could think about was Jessica Grasso, the heavy girl sitting near the back right corner of the room, watching her with a polite seemingly neutral expression. It was almost as if Jessica grew larger with each passing moment, as if she were being inflated by some invisible pump, expanding like a parade float until she filled the entire room.

She hates me, Vicki thought, and this knowledge was somehow both sickening and exciting at the same time. But you wouldn’t know it from looking at her.

Opinions. We all have them, and they are as unique to us as our fingerprints. They take shape from our experiences, molded by our interactions with others. While Googling herself, the well-meaning Vicki discovers a student’s unfavorable opinions about her character.

OMG my math teacher Vicki Wiggins is an INSANE B*#@&! One day she called me a FAT PIG for eating candy in class. I know I’m no supermodel but guess what she’s even worse! Hav u seen the panty lines when she packs her HUGE BUTT into those ugly beige pants?

Vicki is shocked to read the post and can’t remember ever using the words “fat pig” to refer to a student. When she recalls the event in question, confiscating a candy bar from Jessica in accordance with her “no food in the classroom” rule, she decides that Jessica has exaggerated.

“Please give me that.”
Instead of surrendering the contraband, Jessica took another bite….
“Did you hear me?” Vicki demanded, this time in a normal voice.
Jessica’s expression remained blank, but Vicki detected a challenge in it nonetheless. She began to feel foolish, standing there with her hand out while the girl gazed right through her. It was possible—she wasn’t clear on the point in retrospect—that Vicki lowered her gaze, taking a moment or two to perform a less-than-charitable assessment of Jessica’s figure.
“It’s not like you need it.”

For Vicki, the entire encounter is “deeply forgettable,” but Jessica sees it differently, which prompts her to call Vicki an “INSANE B*#@&!” on the World Wide Web. The response here doesn’t seem like a big deal to Jessica, but it bothers Vicki.

She wasn’t sure why it mattered so much, but it did. It just did. Why wouldn’t it? She was a good person, she worked hard, and it seemed crazy—crazy and wrong—that these things went unacknowledged.

Sometimes opinions are wrong, warped by personal bias. What one person takes from an interaction differs from what anyone else will. As we return to long lines at the bookstore, quiet elevator rides with strangers, and conversations with professors and students alike, it is important to remember that our actions have a larger impact than we might imagine. We are surrounded by people whose thoughts and opinions make them unique and important, and that warrants an extra second or two to assess the way we interact with one another.