After high school, I enrolled at a college in Nashville. It was a moderately hard-to-get-into school. I only got in because my dad and sister had gone there, and because I was in-state, being from a hometown of 18,000 in Northwest Tennessee.
During the late summer, I went to the freshman orientation. I was surprised (and a little intimidated) how many enrolling students were from big cities—New York, Boston, and other East Coast swings.
That weekend, school administrators gave us placement tests in math and the foreign language we’d studied in high school. I was nervous about these: I hadn’t exactly set the world on fire in my senior year calculus class and strained to recall any of my French lessons.
A necessary backstory. I took French during my freshman and sophomore years of high school. The teacher was a bubbly little woman named Mrs. Harden who let us play board games (French board games) during class and demanded little else of our attention. I might have remembered five French words, if lucky.
I finished the tests and went to the subsequent orientation activities—meet and greets, tour of the campus, etc…. Later that day, a mother of one of the enrollees asked me, “Are you Michael Green?”
“I heard about your French score. Congratulations.”
I wasn’t quite sure what she meant, but then another parent asked the same question: “Are you Michael Green?” When I nodded, she informed me that I had scored the highest French score that weekend.
For the rest of the weekend, everyone was abuzz about my impressive test results. I’m the man, I thought. Ms. Harden had done it. Board games were evidently the greatest method of teaching. Take that, New York punks.
When school started that fall, I was placed in a high level French class. The first day, I walked into class, found a seat in the middle row, and labeled my notebook. I overheard a few students speaking to each other in what sounded like French. Must be overachievers.
A moment later, the teacher—a tall, thin man—entered the room and said something in a foreign language. The other students answered him and opened their textbooks. I turned to the guy behind me and peeked at his textbook to see the page number.
I didn’t hear one word of English for an hour. Back in my dorm room, I called my dad and told him what had happened. “I cant go back there. I didn’t understand one word that anyone said.”
My dad said he’d help figure out what had happened and began making phone calls.
It turned out there was another Michael Green in the freshman class and he was some sort of French savant. I had scored one of lowest scores. Well, at least I didn’t have to return to that class. I enrolled in beginner’s Spanish the next year.
Mme Harden , où que vous soyez , je vous remercie.