Fooling Yourself (April theme: Fools)

by Tracy Barrett

I entered my sophomore English class confident that I’d continue to get A’s, as I always had in language arts. I had skipped first grade on the strength of my reading and writing, after all, and I had an impressive vocabulary due to all the reading I did. In freshman year I found I could whip out an essay with little preparation or care and get an A on it.

It didn’t occur to me that I was fooling not only my teachers but myself. I actually thought that what I was writing was good. In reality, it was slick and shallow, but full of stylistic flair and ten-dollar words.

So when I got back my first paper in Mrs. Taylor’s class (on The Great Gatsby, I think) I barely glanced at it. And then, I remember, I did a classic double-take.


C+? Wow, what a hard grader—she must have flunked half the class!

I glanced at the paper on the desk of the student next to me. A-.


I needed an explanation for the obviously unfair grade, but she hadn’t made any marks on the first page. Or on the second.

On the third page, there was just one line in red: “Full of sound and fury, and signifying nothing.”

I fumed. Who did she think she was? Everybody knew I was a terrific writer! I flipped the pages over and re-read the paper. And slowly, I had to recognize what she meant. The rhetorical flourishes were all there—the clever lines, the apt quotations. But what had I said? Nothing.

I had found a teacher I couldn’t fool, and I had to stop fooling myself as well. I can’t claim that I learned my lesson and from then on wrote essays of great depth and substance, but Mrs. Taylor planted an internal editor in me who every once in a while whispers in my ear, “Full of sound and fury . . . ”


  1. That kind of teacher can be a life changer. I had one who blew me out of introversion on a Friday in my sophomore year of high school. He told me that he would stop by at eight the next morning to pick me up. "For what?" I mumbled. To take you to Rockland District High so you can represent us in the county extemporaneous speech contest. Once I got over the semi-heart attack phase, I managed to get through the experience. That was 53 years ago, but I still remember it as a defining moment. Thanks for sharing yours.

    1. Wow, what a teacher! It takes someone of extraordinary sensitivity to see when a student needs that kind of push and when it would damage the student. We were both lucky to have the first kind!

  2. Every once in a while, it's STILL good to get a whack upside the head--just like your teacher gave you.


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