Looking back after all these years, I can almost still feel the pain. The worst experience of my school life happened in the fifth grade after a math quiz. As usual, Mrs. Williamson, our teacher, had us hand our papers to the person seated behind us for grading while she read the answers aloud. After grading, each test went back to its owner. Then the teacher called our names, and we reported our own grade aloud.
The test contained 30 problems. The girl who corrected my paper was the ringleader of the kids who teased me about being dumb.
Mrs. Williamson started calling the names. I sat in the stuffy classroom, my gaze traveling from the bright bulletin board to the wall of windows covered with paper cutouts. The room smelled of chalk and children, and I ducked my head, dreading to hear my name. It was inevitable. “Benjamin?” Mrs. Williamson waited for me to report my score.
I mumbled my reply.
“Nine!” Mrs. Williamson dropped her pen, smiled at me, and said with real enthusiasm, “Why, Benjamin, that's wonderful!” (For me to score 9 out of 30 was incredible.)
Before I realized what was going on, the girl behind me yelled out, “Not nine!” She snickered. “He got none. He didn't get any of them right.” Her snickers were echoed by laughs and giggles all over the room.
“That's enough!” the teacher said sharply, but it was too late. The girl's harshness cut out my heart. I don't think I ever felt so lonely or so stupid in my whole life. It was bad enough that I missed almost every question on just about every test, but when the whole class—at least it seemed like everyone there—laughed at my stupidity, I wanted to drop through the floor.
Can anyone explain the red sentence in th above passage? What does it refer to? What relationship do the two clauses connected by but have?
I need native speakers' help.
It refers to missing almost every question. Missing every question was bad enough. Pronouns sometimes refer forward rather than back.
But is a conjunction joining two complete sentences into one compound sentence: Missing the questions was bad, but the laughter was worse.
I'm not a teacher. I speak American English. I've tutored writing at the University of Southern Maine and have done a good deal of copy editing and writing, occasionally for publication.