There Are No Stupid Questions
Walter had spent most of his life teaching others. He had always known it was his calling, ever since he had been chosen as student tutor in eighth grade. It came so naturally to him, the explaining, the lecturing, and most especially, the grading. He loved it when his students excelled, and to him, grades where the only way to measure a person’s capabilities.
Now, as a University professor he felt himself the cream of the crop. He was famous for being the toughest lecturer in the school, he was also known as “The Colander” because only the best of the best passed his course.
Walter liked being The Colander, it gave him a sense of pride, of accomplishment. He was the reason students pushed themselves beyond their potential, he was the reason they shone. He shaped the young minds of the world, and when future Nobel Prize Winners accepted that prestigious award, he would be the one they were thanking. He was The Great Instructor behind The Master.
Collin was not the brightest star in the sky, he was not fast of thought, and he often had to ask for explanations, but he was dogged, and stubborn, and driven, and, as a child, he had earned the nickname Turtle. “Slow and steady wins the race” was his motto, and “there are no stupid questions” his slogan.
Collin was only two credits short of graduating. It was a great honor to his family, and his greatest personal achievement. The stage of school life was set for the final scene and so it happened that Collin was forced to sign up for Walter’s most dreaded and difficult course, History of Economics. It was the only course available that would fit Collin’s schedule, it was also the only course that was never full.
That last semester was a living hell for Collin. Walter made sure of it. He hated slow students, he hated repeating himself over and over because one student was too lazy to understand the first time. Collin studied and studied and tried as hard as he could, and though the course was too difficult and too fast, he never gave up, and by midterm, when The Colander usually drained the school of slackers, Turtle had managed to scrape through. It wasn’t a bad grade, but in Walter’s eyes, it was mediocre.
To Walter there was no getting rid of Collin, no matter how hard he tried to fail him, the little shit still managed to make it by, so he tried more powerful means of persuasion. He yelled at, humiliated, teased and bullied Collin, but Collin just kept his head down, studied and muddled through, exactly like a turtle, seemingly unaware of its slowness and stupidity. To his classmates, Collin was a rock, a hard nut, someone who didn’t break under pressure. Some felt that he held up the class, and they would often join in Walter’s bullying, but others were impressed by his steadfastness and stalwart demeanor, and they defended him, and helped him and admired him. This admiration towards the world’s biggest fool only angered Walter more. They should be admiring him, Walter The Colander, not Collin The Turtle.
By day, Collin bore the humiliation and the bullying like a hero, his personal slogan “there are no stupid questions” soon spread like the wind over campus, but at night, Collin broke down. He studied until he could no longer see, worked himself into fevers and often cried himself to sleep.
Finals came and Walter knew that Collin’s fate would be decided, the war would soon be over, and this blemish would soon be out of his life.
The test was the most difficult and tricky that Walter had ever designed, it was meant to make people fail, not to gauge their knowledge and understanding of the course.
Walter knew the battle was half won when he saw Collin walk in the exam room. He was gaunt, and pale, his hair ruffled and greasy and his eyes sunken. He looked like a walking corpse.
Walter couldn’t wait to grade Collin’s exam, it would be the first and he looked for it frantically amongst the papers the students had turned in. The answers were mediocre and some just plain wrong, and as Walter kept a tally of Collin’s points he smirked. The Turtle was just one point shy of passing. The final answer was correct, written coherently and exactly what Walter was looking for in an answer. It was perfect, and it would have been enough to pass Collin had Walter not been overtaken by a fury so strong it blurred his vision and numbed his mind. He had long forgotten what it truly meant to teach, but now, that dormant feeling was cast out of his soul forever. He reviewed Collin’s exam again, looking for any excuse to fail him, and found it. So simple! Collin had forgotten to date the exam! With a smile and a flourish, Walter flunked Collin.
When Collin received the news of his failure a little part of him died. He fell to his knees in the hall and sobbed quietly into his hands. His classmates rallied around him, tried to cheer him up, and even tried to convince Walter to pass him, but the die was cast, and Collin would not be allowed to graduate with his class.
Walter was proud of himself as he walked into the dean’s office. He had done the right thing, Collin had been the last slacker standing and now all the bad apples were gone.
“Walter,” the dean said as he gestured for him to sit, “I have heard that Collin Harris failed your course. In fact, I’ve had about ten students complaining to me about your decision to fail him over something so trivial as a date. I believe that you know what is best, but I will ask you to reconsider.”
“Sir, my decision is final.”
“I see…I hope you understand why I’m asking you to rethink your decision. I’m sure you have gotten to know him well during this semester. As you know, his parents were killed in an accident when he was a toddler. He himself was in the car and was badly injured. His grandparents raised him, and while the rest of his body healed, his brain never fully developed. He has pulled himself through school all his life, slow and steady, and this was to be his crowning achievement.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know that,” Walter’s heart fell to his feet. He had always seen the boy as a stain, a smear to this institution and it had never occurred to him to learn more about his student.
“Sir, if I may ask a stupid question,” Walter’s voice was almost inaudible, “how do you know all this?”
“I talked to him during admission. I vetted him and these past four years I’ve mentored him. He has reminded me of the meaning of teaching and guidance, and he will graduate, this semester or the next. And I must say, that is my crowning achievement.”
Walter stood up, and head down, opened the door.
“Oh, and Walter? There are no stupid questions.”