Tragic Stories From My Childhood: The Time I Got My Card Flipped

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I’m starting a new series of posts, ones that will probably be posted every once in awhile until they eventually peter out of existence, and it’s all about the things that happened during the last seventeen years of my life, told from my point of view.

I should warn you though, that some of these stories may be exaggerated or distorted. Memories aren’t perfect, after all. But I will try my best to keep things as accurate as possible. 

My first story will bring us back to when I was a wee little child, attending the second grade of my adorable little elementary school. My second grade teacher was Mrs. Rippa, (I hope you’re reading this, Mrs. R.,) who I remember hating her very much, mostly because she made me cry a lot.

To be fair, it didn’t take much to make seven year old me cry, because I was one miserable piece of shit back then. If you were to compare me to any Rugrats characters, I would’ve been Chuckie, no doubt. I was always worrying about things and thinking they were so much more important than they actually were.

To be fair to my former self though, kindergarten me was a total thug. Back then I was kicking ass and taking names, shoving weaker kids into the dirt and flirting with the first grade honeys. Something terrible must’ve happened between kindergarten and second grade, because by the time I was learning how to multiply single digits, I’d become a total wuss. 

Back in elementary school the teachers had a very unique method of discipline: the card system. There’d be a pocket chart thingy on the wall, and everyone would have their own little envelope-thingy (I’m not too sure on the actual names of these things, as I’m sure you can tell). If a student was acting out in class, they’d be told to flip their cards.

The cards went like this:

Blue: The best card. It shows that you have yet to do anything wrong and that you’re one well-behaved kid. Your parents must be so proud.

Green: A warning. Not the worst thing in the world. Just, y’know, don’t do it again. 

Yellow: 5 minutes off recess for you, you good-for-nothing nobody.

Red: No recess at all for you, and you go straight to the principal’s office. I’m not sure what’s in the principal’s office, but I assume there’s forced cannibalism involved, because every student was terrified of going there. 

So one day I was chilling in class, doing one of those stupid activities second graders do, like cutting snowflakes or some shit. Not really important. Anywho, I was getting into a real deep conversation with the girl next to me, Dominique. We were talking about how cracking your knuckles would cause arthritis, which was something my aunt had told me the day before.

(You’re gonna love my aunt, by the way. What she said was this: “You know, Matt, if you keep cracking your knuckles you’re gonna lose the ability to bend your fingers. And you’re going to go through your whole life with incredible pain.” She then proceeded to give many examples of things I would not be able to do because of said permanently-straightened fingers, like driving or typing or holding onto things. She told me I could no longer read books because I would be unable to turn the pages, which seems like an needlessly cruel thing to say to a seven year old bookworm.)

Our conversation was suddenly interrupted by a cold, harsh voice that cut across the classroom. “Matthew, flip your card. No more talking.”

I didn’t think it was possible to go from happy to shocked and upset so quickly. If I had to compare it to any moment, it would be that scene from Mockingjay when (scroll over to read) Katniss sees Peeta for the first time. At first she’s thinking, “Hells yeah, I’m reunited with ma boi Peeta Mellark, best baker since Rachel Ray,” and then as Peeta strangles her to death she’s all, “Hot damn! This ain’t even close to how I expected this to play out.”

But as a student I was nothing if not dutiful, so I proceeded to walk all the way across the room, head bowed in shame, to flip my card for the first time ever. 

As I made the walk, I felt all the eyes of the class on me. Some people laughed. Others made that obnoxious “Ooooohhh” sound that kids love to make. I, meanwhile, was trying very hard not to cry, a process which would pretty much always fail. I’d feel the tears swell up and I’d think, “goddamnit, eyes, this isn’t even that big of a deal. You better not start shedding tears over this.”

Then my eyes would be all like: “Nope! It’s tear city for you. Have fun looking like a total wuss in front of everyone, crybaby.”

And I’d be like: “Come on, eyes, don’t do this to me.”

And my eyes would just start leaking an obnoxious amount of tears out into the world, further ruining my reputation as a hardcore thug.

I haven’t even mentioned the worst part yet: later that day there’d be an Open House for the school, in which the parents would visit the school and be in the classrooms and whatnot. Mrs. Rippa had kindly informed us that if anyone had their cards flipped, those cards would stay flipped until the following morning, so any parents attending Open House would get to see what a failure their child was.

So as you can guess, it was in my best interest to get my card back to its original blue before the day ended. But this was harder than it seemed. 

My options, as far as I could see it:

1) Sneak over and unflip my card.

2) Hold the class hostage until Mrs. Rippa agrees to unflip my card, and also to make me the line leader for at least a week. (Because if you have the chance to demand line-leading privileges, you take it.)

3) Run away and never come back.

But I knew none of these ideas would work. #1 might have, but I knew if I was caught I’d likely get a yellow—possibly even red— card, and I couldn’t risk that. So I went with secret option number four: I decided to beg.

I know, I’m not proud of the fact. Later that day I went up to Mrs. Rippa and tried to persuade her to unflip my card. I tried denying the fact that I had talked at all, and when that didn’t work I tried apologizing and then I’d never doing it again. When that didn’t work I decided to blame it all on Dominique, but alas, it was to no avail. 

It may seem like a scumbag move to try and wrap Dominique into this, but hey, I might as well have had a gun pointed my head, I was so desperate. Besides, Dominique would later do some terrible things to me, so I don’t feel too bad, looking back. Also, I’d like to remind everyone that I was only seven at the time, so y’know, don’t judge.

Anywho, I spent the rest of the day in a bad mood, despite various attempts by other people to cheer me up. When I went home I confessed to my parents, breaking into tears and whatnot, and they weren’t actually upset at all. Presumably because, well, it’s just a stupid card.

But it wasn’t stupid. That card flipping system was an ingenious system of discipline through the use of public shaming. I applaud the people who invented it, while also hating them for all the misery they’ve caused. 

So how about you, readers? What punishment did your elementary school teachers use? Especially if you went to Catholic school, let me know. Because I know many adults who went to Catholic schools, and the stories they have are just horrifying, especially when compared to the wimpy card-flipping system some schools like mine had. 

I don’t know about you guys, but I for one will always be afraid of nuns. 


14 thoughts on “Tragic Stories From My Childhood: The Time I Got My Card Flipped

  1. I went to Catholic school…no problems with nuns (well, there was this one, Attila the Nun, ruined music for me forever, but I was not scarred for life because everyone hated her).

  2. I had that same thing in my first grade classroom! Ours didn’t have the blue, though, just green yellow red. I was friends with these two boys back then, and they were the silly, talk out of turn, obnoxious type, so they always ended up making me laugh in class, and I’d have to go flip over my card. And then my teacher would tell my mom, and I would be the picture of embarrassment and tears for the rest of the week. XD Those things were evil.

    1. Ah, that sucks. I don’t think I’ve ever had a teacher call home before (well, once in middle school, but that’s a story for another day), but I’ve been threatened with a call home many times before, and that would always scare me straight.

      1. I’ve never actually either, it was just a super small school, so parents had to drive and enter campus to pick you up- waiting outside your classrooms- so teachers had the opportunity to tell them everything XD Calls home seem terrifying *shudders*

      2. Oh dear.. THat actually sounds worse than a phone call home. At least with me there was a chance my parents wouldn’t be home at the time, and I could delete the message before they found it.

  3. Ah! The card system. I also had that in first grade. (I was not always homeschooled.) And I managed to get out trouble the first day. I was not a trouble maker in general, just someone very curious and slightly naive who didn’t realize what I was doing would get me in trouble. Honestly, I’m still a bit like that…
    Sorry! Got distracted cringing at memory lane. It’s not all sunshine and lollipops.

    1. I know your pain. *has traumatic flashback to the time I accidentally broke the pencil sharpener, and instead of confessing right away I panicked and slipped it in my pocket. My plan was to fix it quietly and then return it when no one was looking. My plan failed horribly.*

  4. I don’t remember much of second grade, just that it was hell. I think my teacher has some sort of personality disorder, she was terribly mean to all the kids in the class. Long story short, after my sister and I left the school, the board fired the principal and that teacher. Ah, wonderful memories!

    In sixth grade they had something sorta like that, I hated the thing. It would give me panic attacks.

    1. Yikes, that sounds terrible.

      I can’t remember if the card system kept going onto sixth grade, but I know that by fifth grade most of the students no longer cared what card they were on. The card system no longer had power over us, I say triumphantly.

  5. I’m sure my Christian school when I was a kid probably had some sort of punishment system, but for the life of me, I can’t remember ever haven’t been punished by it. I would say, “Ask my sister,” because I am sure she would remember. I do remember, however, that my parents gave my principal express permission to spank us if we were bad… Not that he (or she? I don’t remember) ever did.

    1. Ah! Sorry it took me so long to respond! I don’t think WordPress even notified me of this comment…

      I’m laughing at how your parents gave your principal permission for that. I don’t think my parents ever did for me, but I do recall them telling me how my grandparents did that for them. (“Make sure to hit him real hard if he starts to get lippy,” was apparently what my grandmother said.)

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