NYC136 cover image See all stories from issue #136, March, 1998

Why I Failed the 9th Grade
Elizabeth Thompson

This September I walked into school feeling great. I looked great with my new outfit on and I couldn’t wait to see my friends. When I saw my homegirl standing in the hallway waving at me, I ran to give her a hug.

“What’s up, Liz!” she said with excitement.

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“Nothing, just happy to be back,” I replied, smiling.

After our little conversation and our compliments on each other’s outfits, we finally realized we were in school.

“Liz, let me see your program. Did you pass?” my friend asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. I was wondering the same thing.

As we studied my program for a few seconds, I realized I had a 9th grade homeroom for the second year in a row.

Both me and my friend were silent for a while trying to believe this. Next thing I knew the bell rang—meaning I was late for class. I couldn’t believe this had happened to me! I was in such shock, I didn’t even know what to say. Not me, I’m smart! Only dumb people get left back, right?

Nope, not only dumb people, but also those who play around with their education. I know because I got left back, and I’m no dummy.

In junior high I was in all honor classes, on the principal’s list, and the merit and honor rolls. I had a 90 average and I passed every test with a stunning grade. Not to mention my perfect attendance!

So why did the girl with the best reading score in her whole junior high get left back? Simple. When she got to high school, there was so much freedom that she fell off track completely.

I guess I started cutting because certain classes were so boring and discouraging (like math) that it was such a relief when I didn’t go to them. I felt so lost when I sat in class confused about the work or when I got a failing test back.

When I had trouble with the work, I wanted to leave the classroom immediately. I felt embarrassed, confused and worst of all—stupid. And I made my situation even worse because I didn’t go to class enough, and when I did go I didn’t pay attention. I felt stupid, but deep down inside I knew I wasn’t. I just wasn’t trying.

Classes Out Of Control

Some of my teachers didn’t seem like they were trying too hard, either. For example, my math teacher is pretty new and he never has the whole class’s attention. He hardly knows who the students are, and you can leave and go home whenever you want.

Students have paper ball fights and other kids who don’t even have math that period hang out in the class. Students curse at each other and sometimes at the teacher! And at times someone would even bring a little radio, and the whole class would have a party—while the teacher was teaching.

Other teachers in my school do care, and those are the classes you know not to cut. For example, my global teacher knows your name like you’re a superstar. He also has the class in perfect order, so you have to raise your hand to speak. And he has a funny personality, which makes learning enjoyable.

But when the classroom is rowdy like it was in math, I’m ready to leave because I know I’m not going to get educated.

Still, the teachers weren’t my only problem. It didn’t help that I hung out with a fun group of friends. We had so much fun, I got completely distracted from doing my work. We used to cut three or more classes about three times a week.

It used to be a whole group of about eight of us, so there was never a problem finding someone to cut or roam the halls with. We always hung out together—wherever you found one you were bound to find another tagging along.

Togetherness felt more like a need than a want (which it wasn’t). It just felt good to have so many people around to cheer you up and support you.

We had a lot of fun with our togetherness, like the whole crew going to every movie theater we could find, having a pizza shop as our main location for after school meetings, and having silly names for each other.

Hanging Out Seemed So Important

image by Micah Zurer

We cut class to hang out together even if we were sometimes just bored out of our minds sitting in the school library. And one time all of us cut school and went to my friend’s house when her parents weren’t home and relaxed.

It probably wasn’t the greatest thing in the world, but at that moment it felt good to be with all my friends, at home without any parental guidance —I felt free and grown up.

Friendship and hanging out seemed so much more important than reading and writing.

My friends and I didn’t care about getting in trouble or getting bad grades because we didn’t think about the consequences until it was too late. And when we did have a chance to correct our mistakes in summer school, we messed that up, too.

OK, at times we did worry, like at the end of the school year when we had already messed up. And I did feel bad sometimes because my boyfriend would tell me how it wasn’t cute to see my failing report card. But high school was easy for him, and I was embarrassed to admit that school could be hard for me.

My parents didn’t approve of my bad grades either. They would constantly complain about how I was a little angel in junior high, getting marvelous grades, but as soon as I stepped into high school, I just went in the other direction.

My Parents Didn’t Flip

My parents would also warn me about the future consequences, like how I would have a hard time getting a good job. But all last year they never punished me, and they didn’t really flip when they found out I got left back. I thought they were going to yell at me, even stop talking to me for a while, but they were cool. I guess from seeing my report card, they already knew the results.

I’m kind of happy my parents didn’t try to punish me, because I would have rebelled and probably dropped out of school just to upset them more.

Still, once in a while, I did think about my future and I worried that if I didn’t finish high school I couldn’t become a writer like I want to be. But then when I was at school, I wouldn’t care about anything but the moment, and all I wanted right then was to have fun with my friends.

Now I see we wasted a whole year of our lives learning nothing and we’ve affected our future because we won’t be graduating on time. When I think about this now, it makes me want to work much harder.

I feel like I’ve damaged a part of my life. I feel ashamed about my past, but I’m proud enough about my present to say, “Look at me now.”

My Friends Still Cut

After the shock of getting left back, I’ve learned the reality of these two things: friendship doesn’t always last forever or help you achieve, but reading and writing will. After the first weeks of this school year, the whole crew broke up (long story), but that’s not what made it bad.

What made it bad was the fact that out of eight of us, only one was promoted. The other six took it with a laugh of disbelief, and some took it so well that they’re still cutting.

I look at some of my old friends now and see how they won’t face their failures. They won’t even admit that getting left back is serious.

It seems like getting left back didn’t teach them a lesson but pushed them to mess up even more. Last year they might have messed up out of ignorance, but how can they let this year be a sequel?

I Learned My Lesson

Sometimes I want to blame some of my old friends for me having to repeat 9th grade, but they didn’t hold me back, they just got held back with me. I could’ve said no when they wanted to cut, but I didn’t and it was my fault.

In a way I’m kind of happy we’re split up because we probably would still be addicted to cutting and ignorant of how important education and graduation is. Unlike my old friends, I decided to get my act together. I knew what my goals were and what I needed to do in order to reach them. Being a drop-out surely wasn’t going to help.

I’m doing much, much, much better in school now. So much better that my parents don’t believe me (literally) when I show them my report card. I also hang out with new friends, but only during lunch or after school.

Now that I’m getting the good grades I deserve, I’m not as stressed about schoolwork and I feel a little better about my education and my future.

It seems like you’re always told how hard high school classes are going to be, but never how easy it is to mess up. Now that’s the tricky part—that’s the part that has so many kids fooled.

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