“D” is for Determination
Wed, 06/17/2020 - 12:56pm admin
The articles in this column often mention my appreciation for the teachers and the education I received at Willow Springs. Learning was fun, and I was mostly an A and B student. In fact, I received my first D in college. Well . . . that’s not entirely true, so I will fess up to an incident involving venerable WSHS teacher Lorene Masnor.
Since many will be unfamiliar with Miss Masnor, a little background information is in order. She began teaching commercial studies at WSHS in 1930, but most students from my generation will remember her teaching bookkeeping, shorthand, and typing. As sophomores, when most of us took typing, she had been teaching for three decades.
It’s fair to say, I think, that Miss Masnor was unique in a likeable, odd sort of way. A bit frumpy in her appearance, her dresses often clung where they should have draped. Ironically, her photograph in the 1939 Willamizzou presented a portrait of an attractive, well-groomed 20-something woman of the era.
According to neighbor Marguerite Wehmer, she was devoted to her elderly mother, whom she lived with in a house on East Seventh Street. After her mother passed away, Miss Masnor could be seen driving her Aunt Kate Lovan about town, as if on a sightseeing tour.
Her voice had a monotone nasality. Anyone who had her as a typing teacher will recognize this refrain: “R, J, semi, space; R, J, semi, space;” which she called out to the class, smooth and connected, with the cadence of a metronome. In response, the class, in unison, pecked out the letters. “R, J, semi, space” was followed by “O-L, O-L, O-L—I’m not saying what it sounds like I’m saying.” Frankly, I was never quite sure what it was she thought she sounded like, but nevertheless, we reflexively typed the letters, and the cacophony of our pecking echoed in the wooden hallways outside.
According to her fellow teacher, Jessie Munford, she was without a peer as a proofreader. She could spot a typographical error with a glance. Mrs. Munford used to prevail upon her to review the Willamizzou for errors.
She could be perplexing, however. After I had gotten A’s and B’s on all the typing tests, I was surprised to see a D on my report card. I asked her why she gave me the low grade, and she said, “Anybody who slams his typewriter carriage doesn’t deserve a very good grade.”
For younger readers, a typewriter is an old-fashioned, non-electric writing machine with a keyboard. The carriage is the moving part of the machine that supports a sheet of paper, which has to be manually moved by a lever, after each line of printing to advance to the next line.
For the record, I did not slam my typewriter carriage. It was a freshman boy who sat next to me, who shall remain anonymous. My pleas of innocence to Miss Masnor fell on deaf ears. It was obvious I needed to appeal to a higher authority. I reported the injustice to the principal, Fred Thomas, and he said he would take care of it. I don’t know what he did, but my grade changed from a D to a B.
After that misunderstanding, I cruised through high school with no more D’s, and arrived on the Mizzou campus in the fall of 1965 thinking I was a pretty good student. That is, until Professor Freeman posted grades for the Principles of Geology first midterm exam.
Out of 25 seemingly easy multiple-choice questions, I had only gotten 16 correct, and the lowest C was 18. The class average for 400 students was 15—nearly half the class had D’s and F’s. I was from the Ozarks, and a class about rocks ought to be easy, but I had D.
That day in class, the professor seemed unphased by student protests about the exam. In response to one student’s complaint that a question was unfair, he responded, “That’s third-grade trigonometry.” It may have been an obtuse response, but raised hands dropped and the questions stopped.
I still harbored the notion I was a good student and remained optimistic. After all, it was only the first of three exams, and I was doing okay in my other classes. I vowed to study harder.
A few weeks later, the grades on the second mid-term exam were posted. Again, for 25 multiple-choice questions, the lowest C was 18, the class average was 15, and I got a 16—another D. Moreover, a pink deficiency slip was sent home to my parents advising them that their “scholar” was not making the grade.
My explanation to Mom that the pink slip was no big deal because half the class got them may have been a hint of my lawyering future, namely, telling the truth in the most favorable light. But the glibness of my explanation did not match the sinking feeling I felt. I only had one more mid-term before the final.
Hearing about my plight, a graduate student who ate in my dining hall, claimed that with hypnosis he could remove any anxiety I had concerning geology tests, which would free my mind to think more clearly. In desperation, I decided to get hypnotized before the next test.
In actual fact, I never felt hypnotized during the session, but the proof would lie in the results on the next test. The grades were posted. As usual, the lowest C was 18, the class average was 15, but I got a 17—still a D—but I had improved by a point. In spite of the improvement, I did not try hypnosis again.
The only thing between me and a D in my first college semester was a fully-comprehensive 50-question final exam. It seemed hopeless
During finals week, I discovered an unoccupied floor of my dormitory and hid there with a coffeepot and my geology book and notes. Time became a blur until the day of reckoning, and I stared at fifty seemingly easy multiple-choice questions.
Several days later, I trudged up to the final exam results taped on the lecture hall door anticipating another rebuke. I started reading from the bottom, through the F’s, D’s, C’s, and I didn’t see my student number in those groups. I looked again, but still didn’t see it. I wasn’t in the B’s either. Finally, I started at the top. The highest score was 49, the second-highest was a 48—next to my student number. I had gotten an A on the fully comprehensive final . . . but still only received a C for the course. That hardly seemed fair, but I guess that was third-grade trigonometry.
My career includes seven years of college teaching, and to my students’ chagrin, I always gave comprehensive finals. But, to show my enlightenment, I told them if they “aced” the final, they would get more than a C for the course. So there, Professor Freeman.
Today, I can’t exactly remember what a reverse asymmetrical syncline is from the Principles of Geology class, nor have I had any need for the information. But thanks to Miss Masnor, “R, J, semi, space” from her typing class at WSHS still serves me well.