Aiming for Average

by Andy Wood on February 21, 2010

in Insight, Life Currency, LV Stories, Turning Points

I hated Ann Finch.

Three times she sent me to the principal’s office, and two of those times I emerged with a butt-on-fire.

One time she made me stay after school in an Ann-imposed detention.  I lied to my mother and told her I needed to stay late because of band.  When she picked me up, who should be walking out of the building but Miss Finch?  She tattled on me, and then it was double trouble.

Once I ended the grading period with an 89.4 average.  She gave me a “B” for the quarter.  One lousy stinking tenth of a point!  Too bad.  She wouldn’t budge.

I liked Ann Finch.

Probably for the wrong reasons, but I liked her nonetheless.  She was so easy to pick on.  She was four-foot nothing, an intellectual German teacher stuck teaching two units of ninth-grade English in a time when there were no advanced-placement or honors classes. We were in the second year of court-ordered busing, and our classroom was comic collision of culture.  (Yes, Miss Finch, I know that’s alliteration.)  Her approach to discipline was to lamely say, “Stop the pounding,” (that would be me drumming on my desk) or “Hush your mouth” to a classroom that resembled a funny farm or a circus.  Name a TV sitcom or movie about school life, and to me and the other characters in Miss Finch’s class, it would be old news.

Or precious memories.

I needed Ann Finch.

A cosmic shift was taking place in my life during those days, in more ways than one.  I was starting to write creatively.  It all began the summer after my eighth grade year when my girlfriend broke up with me.  It was the stuff of tragedy and drama, and I wrote a poem about it titled “April Tenth.”

It was bad.

But me being the serious romantic I was, and needing approval like I did (glad that’s not true anymore), I thought… who better to show my serious, romantic poem to than my English teacher?  She read it after class one day, while I held my breath.  She handed it back with a one-word comment.


Cute? I poured out my adolescent soul on paper (with terrible rhythm and lame rhyme) and all she could say was, CUTE?

But near the same time, when we had some time to kill (we had LOTS of time to kill), a few of us wrote a poem spoofing her.  It started,

“Stop the pounding!  Hush your mouth!”

Says this lady from the South.

I forgot the rest, and I’m sure you’re grateful.  But Miss Finch loved it.  Thought it was hilarious.

Then there was the time she gave a creative writing project as a contest.  There would be a prize for the first, second, and third-best papers.  I decided (since it was Finchipoo’s class after all) to go for comedy.  I wrote this piece that had been inspired by a Mad Magazine cartoon I had seen.  It had a little of everything… drama, suspense, a funny punch-line poem at the end… and to me it was all drivel.

To Miss Finch, it was the best thing written.

Blow.  Me.  Away.

I was so excited, I asked Miss Finch to read my latest heartfelt poem, about the girl I had a crush on in ninth grade.

“Cute,” she said.


I learned from Ann Finch.

And it was one of the most important lessons I would ever learn.

The lesson wasn’t about English (although I do remember hearing the word “gerund” in there for the first time… I still don’t know what that is.)

The lesson wasn’t about creative writing, although it certainly applied.  I’ll tell you the lesson in a minute, but first, I have to fill in some blanks.  You see, Miss Finch didn’t survive the school year.

Stop thinking that.  We didn’t kill her, although I have no doubt she had some fantasies about killing us.  But we helped her realize she was in the wrong place (she pursued teaching on a college level), and she left mid-year.

Miss Finch had sent a group of us to the library to do some independent study.  (I actually think she hoped I would shut up if I was in the library.)  She came in to check on us, and in a moment of candor she shared why that class environment had been such an impossible frustration for her.

“I have a group of ‘A’ students,” she said, “and a group of ‘D’ students.  All year long, I have tried to teach at a ‘C’ level in order to reach everybody.  I wound up reaching no one.”

You may want to reread that.

The lesson Miss Finch learned, and taught me:  Nobody ever succeeds by aiming for average.


Jus’ kiddin’ Miss Finch.  It’s actually profound.

Hey, Miss Finch, if you happen to read this, I have something else I want you to read.  It’s a poem I wrote for Valentine’s Day just after you left, about a couple who meets in secret at midnight beneath a redbud tree.  They kiss and freeze to death.  You’ll love it.

I miss Ann Finch.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Eric Chaffin February 21, 2010 at 5:54 am

You remind me of the way we used to treat Mrs. Wood, my sophomore Biology teacher. By the way, I think your blog contained some run-on sentences and dangling participles. Just kidding. I was trying to be “cute.”

Deb February 21, 2010 at 8:39 pm

“Pounding” is a gerund in “Stop the pounding.” :o) I’m sure you really knew that.

Andy Wood February 21, 2010 at 9:43 pm

LOL… I actually didn’t… and still don’t! What, a verb that ends the sentence?

I think Gerund would be a great baby name. It could live on, from generation to generation, unto infinitive.

Melanie February 22, 2010 at 7:37 pm

Thanks for the reminder, Andy!

(Somehow I don’t think Cassie would be willing to rethink Cohen’s name . . .)
.-= Melanie´s last blog ..Home Improvement =-.

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