I have come to believe that words can wound or heal us; they can feed us nutrients to live on or they can starve us to death. The following is an excerpt from my book, The Impostor Affect: A Closer Look by a Classic Case (2017, p. 44–45). It’s available on Amazon.com or on my website: www.andrealynsims.com.
It’s a little difficult to put myself back into a third-grade mindset and write this as if it were happening currently. But I can tell you that my memories are sharp and the details fine-tuned from replaying it repeatedly over the years. It’s one of those scenes that would be a fascinating psychological study if you could re-gather the main characters and have each tell the incident from their point of view. But all I can tell you . . . is my own. I remember it this way.
I was sitting in a circle in our classroom along with seven or eight other advanced third-grade readers. Our teacher, Ms. S, was leading a discussion on a section of our reading book. For me, it was an ordinary day. Nothing to portend what was coming.
“Well, who do you think is like thatin our class?” she asked, looking smugly around the little circle. We all looked up at her as she stood, towering over us. She was pencil-thin-and-straight with a long nose and small eyes. Her lips always seemed to be pursed.
“Do we have a Captain Bossyamong us?” she repeated, pushing a little harder for a response.
Now third graders are still of the age and mindset to want to please their teachers, so we were all trying very hard to come up with someone who might satisfy her. I was looking around at everyone in the reading group just as they were doing. The remaining students in the class—outside of our reading circle—had picked up the scent of something coming. Silence fell upon all of us.
Then our reading group began looking beyond “us” to “others” out there to figure out who could be the one. I looked down at the book in my lap and began to flip back the pages, trying to remember what the story had to do with this. Had I not been paying attention? Captain Bossy?
“Well, let me help you out here, then,” she said, as she stood taller. Half turning to include the whole class, she proceeded to describe one incident after another where . . . some child. . . in her class . . . had done thisand thisand this. I didn’t recognize the offenses so I just sat there waiting, like everyone else, for the pronouncement.
When it came, I was dumbfounded—if a young child can be dumbfounded. It was me. I had no idea what I had done, when, or where. I fell into a numbness and smallness I had not known before.
Ms. S instructed my classmates to call me Captain Bossyuntil further notice, and I spent the next four days in a kind of cultural hell that I couldn’t escape from. Too embarrassed to tell anyone at home—who would I have told and what would they have done—and too horrified to fight back, even verbally. So I endured it by getting to school almost late, spending recesses and after lunch in a bathroom stall, and running home as fast as I could after school—by myself.
On the fifth day, in that same little reading circle, Ms. S announced that perhaps Captain Bossy had learned her lesson and they could dispense with the title. And they did, going on with their little lives as if nothing much had happened at all. They went on . . . but I never was quite the same after that.
Some have offered comfort after reading this story, postulating that Ms. S had misinterpreted my behavior as arrogant bossiness instead of early stirring of leadership. I was able to smile and thank them—a big step for an impostor.