Back in the eighties Joe was decidedly average. He excelled at being a non-event. He was fourteen years old with average intelligence. At that time you could gain either CSE or O Level qualifications. The O Level class was for the average to high intelligence students. The top CSE class was for the outright average students and the lower CSE class was for those who had trouble tying their shoes. Joe was in the top CSE class.
He didn’t particularly like school. He was more of an artist, a free spirit. Formality stifled his creativity but he understood it was a necessary evil. Some lessons he didn’t mind too much. Maths, strangely, was one of those. His maths teacher was Miss Leadbottom.
“Morning class, I have your test results for you today,” she said as the class was settling down. She walked between the desks handing out the marked test papers. She would give the occasional praise to those who deserved it and a disappointed sigh to those who could do better. Joe was waiting for a sigh.
“Here you go Joe,” she said handing him his paper. “Excellent work. You’ve got the highest mark in the class. Well done.”
Joe sat there stunned staring at his score. 157. He didn’t know what it was out of but it didn’t matter, it was the highest score. He never had the highest score, he never performed more than required. This was not average, this was above average and Joe was in unfamiliar territory.
“Well done Joe,” said Geoff.
Geoff sat next to Joe in maths. He was one of Joe’s close friends.
“What did you get?” Joe asked.
“154. I got near you.” Geoff gave Joe a warming smile. He was genuinely happy Joe had achieved something.
“Listen up,” requested Miss Leadbottom. “You’re going to get a chance to join the O level class. Well some of you. Everyone who scored 150 or more will get the chance. So well done Joe, Geoff, Claire, Sarah and Jane.”
Joe was listening but he was also staring at his score. It showed how the score was calculated. The score from each of the three sections were stacked on top of each other with the summed total beneath.
“That’s 147. She carried the 1 twice,” he told himself.
“In five weeks you will sit an exam. If you pass you will make it into the O level class,” Miss Leadbottom said.
Joe kept looking at the score. He was average, he hadn’t overachieved. Yet when he thought he had, he had a funny feeling inside. He felt happy, almost proud of himself. He liked that feeling.
“I’m going to give you the O level text book to work through. You’ll be studying in the dining hall so you don’t disturb the rest of the class. I have faith in you all that you will study and not misbehave. If you have any questions come and see me.” She paused in case of questions, but nothing was asked. “Well there’s no time like the present. Come and collect your books and make your way to the dining hall,” said Miss Leadbottom.
The selected few gathered their belongings and made their way to the front of the class to collect the text book. Joe joined them. He didn’t say anything to Miss Leadbottom. He collected the book and followed the others. He didn’t do any work for the rest of the lesson. He sat with the book open staring at it, fighting with his conscience.
Time helped Joe come to terms with his new fictitious intelligence. He convinced himself he deserved the chance. It made him feel proud, so much so he told his parents he’d been selected to join the O level class. They were surprised, although they never let it show. “Well done Joe,” his Dad said, a man of not so many words.
He loved his new maths class. He did squat during it apart from irritating the others. His true nature came out, making sure he didn’t graduate towards being above average. Five weeks flew by. It was soon the day of the exam.
“You have one hour to complete the exam. Turn over the paper and start,” ordered Mr McClintoch, the O Level maths teacher. It wasn’t only the five students from the CSE class taking the exam, but four others from the O Level class who Mr McClintoch thought were struggling.
Joe turned over the paper and started to read the questions. All his hard work began to pay off; he had no clue how to answer any of them. He might as well have taken the exam in Chinese. He felt sad. He realised he had screwed up his chance to be a better version of himself. He had let himself down, and Miss Leadbottom and his parents. He was embarrassed.
He got home and confessed all to his father. His father listened patiently, not judging him.
“Did you learn your lesson?” his father asked.
Joe’s father shook his head. “Something along the lines of integrity?”
“I’m not with ya.”
“Did you admit the truth?”
“No, else Miss Leadbottom wouldn’t have let me take the test.”
“Not to her, to yourself.”
Joe sat there and considered his actions. “I did to start with, but then I thought I could get away with it.”
“And that’s when it went wrong?”
“Yeah, I s’pose so.”
“Whatever you do in life son, you’ve got to be true to yourself. The world has a way of slapping you down if you don’t.”
Joe sat there absorbing his father’s words. That’s when it happened. Apart from being the longest conversation he had ever had with his Dad, it was the most meaningful. This was the time average Joe became an honest Joe.