Censored or Unsensored: The Trigonometry of Falling part

Carson came home from school, plopped on the couch, clapped her hands together, and said, “Ok.  I have a story.  Do you want it censored or uncensored?”

Ooh!  Six seconds after school, and I am being offered this gift!

“Uncensored.”

“Awesome.”  She stood, so she could readjust. She sat back down on her knees, a sure sign gesticulation would occur.

“So I am sitting in precalc today, and you know how we are taught?  We sit in “learning groups,” which means, you know, we teach ourselves.

“Mr. K. — He’s like a really brilliant mind.  He understands math better than I think any teacher in the building, but like all real geniuses, he cannot always articulate what he knows, and this frustrates people who don’t want to work for understanding.  Anyway, he’s walking around the room watching us learn and I am just minding my own business working through my problems when I happened to look up.  I notice that the girl who sits across from me at the next table, she looks… I don’t know, almost despondent.”

She paused to readjust, sitting a little taller.  The story was about to get juicy, I knew!

“Okay, so this girl, Amy is her name; she’s a senior, and she obviously needs precalc to graduate.  I know she doesn’t like Mr. K’s teaching style, and I know she struggles in the class.  She looked miserable. She was just staring at the book.

“Mr K. then said, ‘Does anyone need assistance?’  And I watched her hand raise, very slowly mind you.  Hesitantly even, but she did raise her hand.  She didn’t turn toward him, nor did her expression change, but her hand did go up.

“He walked over to her and said, ‘What can I do for you Amy?’  She did not look up.  She did not speak.  She just pointed at a problem in the book.

“Mom, I looked around and no one was paying attention.  The weight of her point was making me nervous, and no one was paying attention!

“Anyway, he bent down, looked at what she was pointing at, and instead of explaining how to do the problem, he posed a question.  ‘What is the cosine?’  See, he teaches by making us figure it out for ourselves.  I mean, I don’t mind because it makes me think about the problems more in-depthly, and I always end up understanding the solution better, but Amy and kids like her, they just want to be told what to do or how to do it…”

“Or maybe they just want the answer,” I interrupted.

“Exactly!”  She pointed at me.  “Okay, so Amy did not look up or answer, and I noticed that her face looked hot.  She was turning different shades of red.

“K was looking at the book and not at her so I don’t think he realized that she looked kind of upset.  He didn’t get an answer, so he posed another question.   ‘Amy, can you tell me which part of the problem should be solved first?

“Mom, this is no joke.  I saw Amy clench her fists.”

“Did she want to punch him?” I asked.

“Probably, but she did something even better.”  The giddiness in her voice let me know this was going to be good.

“Uncensored?” she asked again.

“Good God, yes!”

“Okay.  So she clenched her fists and I saw a single tear leave her right eye.  Mom, I looked around and still no one was paying attention! I looked back, and I am not kidding, the tear moved in slow motion down her face and literally dropped on the page of her book.

“Mr K. was still oblivious.  He was standing next to her but kind of behind her so  I really don’t think he could see any of it.”

“So what happened?”  I asked.  I was feeling the tension she was describing.

“Well!”  She clenched her hands together again, “She let out this kind of weird sigh or sob or…. God, I don’t even know how to describe the sound.  It kind of resonated in her throat, but blew out her nose.

“I realized that everyone else was suddenly aware something was about to happen.

“I cannot make this up.  She looked up, and Mr. K. finally saw her face.”

“What did he do?” I could not wait to hear!

“Nothing!   He did not react.  His face was just as serious and calm as ever.  So, in a very quiet voice, she said, ‘I don’t know what comes first.’  And then tears streamed down her face and it started.”

“What?”

“She said, I don’t know what comes first,’ and then her voice escalated,  ‘because you don’t fucking teach.  I don’t understand a fucking thing and I probably am going to fail out of high school because you are the worst math teacher in the history of fucking math teachers.”

I could feel my mouth gaping.  “What did K. do?”

“That’s the best part.  He never reacted.  His expression did not change.  He just looked at this poor, frustrated, bumbling girl and he did nothing!  After a second, he did say, rather calmly I might add, ‘Amy, I think you should gather your belongings and head to the office.’

Head to the office!  Mom, like she had received a call slip or something.  She stood up, swept up her stuff and headed to the door.”

“What happened next?”

“Oh. this is the best part.  She walked down the hall, a hall with door after door ajar, and kept talking loudly.  “Yep.  I’m going to fucking end up on skid row because of K.  Thanks K!  Thanks for destroying my fucking life!”

She patted her legs as if to iron out a wrinkle in her pants, and smiled.

“Is that it?”  I knew there had to be more.

“Well, basically.  Everyone was staring at K.   I saw it, though.  I saw his reaction.   He cocked his head ever so slightly.  Oh, his wheels were turning, and that slight head movement let me know he was thinking.  And then, he looked at us. No one was moving, and he just calmly said, ‘Does anyone need assistance?’ Like the whole thing didn’t happen!”

“What did everyone do?”

“Pretty much everyone put up their hands.  Like, kids who never raise their hands, they suddenly had questions.”

“Why?” I asked.

“I don’t know.  Maybe out of sympathy.  Maybe out of fear.  I don’t know, but I feel like after she left, everyone went out of their way to try to understand precalc today.

“That’s fantastic!”

“I know, right?  God, it was amazing!”

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This experience was my first with “censored or uncensored,” and I am so glad I made the “uncensored” choice.  Ah, the stress of a high school senior.  I want to say to Amy,  “It’s fine.  You will be fine. Maybe in a wee bit of trouble.  But ultimately, fine.”

 

 

I Am a Mother; Hear Me Roar

Anyone who knows me knows that sometimes, I am a very passionate person.  When I feel wronged, I feel that whatever or whomever has offended me needs to understand how and why.  Usually, this happens through the form of written communication.  Yes, that’s right; I like to write a letter.

I have written a handful of letters over the years.  I wrote to our local hospital when my husband received substandard emergency health care.  I wrote to my local newspaper when the editorialist described teachers inaccurately.  I wrote to my sister-in-law when we had an argument over family.  I wrote to the Coke delivery man to complain about the selections in the machine at work.

With each letter, I have allowed myself time to stew, to think, to collect my thoughts.  When I actually sit down to compose the letter, I try to do it without emotion.  I want the recipient to understand that I am trying to explain my side, to open his eyes to another person’s point of view, and to explain why I felt provoked.

However, sometimes, I cannot separate my emotions from the situation.  Sometimes, I shoot from the hip.

Recently, we made the decision that next year we are going to pull our daughters from the parochial school and enroll them in public school.  Having made this decision, we realized that we had to actually register Carson for classes.  As an eighth grader, she will have choices.  One choice that she was very excited about was math.  The school offers a general eighth grade math and algebra for the advanced learners.  Of course, as a life long straight A student, she immediately said she wanted to take algebra.  Not only did she want a challenge, but she liked that she would earn high school credit in eighth grade.  I liked that it would place her on the math track and that she would be able to take calculus while still in high school.  As someone who has expressed interest in engineering, I think it is vitally important for her to be afforded this opportunity.

I emailed her math teacher and asked her to write a letter of recommendation for Carson to take algebra.  After a few days, she responded.  She said she could not write the letter.  Even though she is teaching pre-algebra this year, she did not recommend her for this Honors level course.  I was furious.  Carson is a straight A student.  She has an amazing work ethic, and she accomplishes absolutely every challenge she puts her mind to achieving.  She excels in all that she does, and for this woman to say that she would not recommend Carson for algebra, I felt she belittled my child’s intelligence.

However, I paused.  I reflected.  I worried.  What if she couldn’t handle it?  To test the waters, I borrowed an Algebra I book from the math department at my high school.  I brought it home and made Carson work through the first three chapters.  She said it was mostly review of things she knew and understood, and the concepts that were unfamiliar to her,  she could understand.  Why of course she could do it!  She is intelligent.

I contemplated making a meeting with the principal and the teacher and demanding a letter.  However, Tom said we should wait.  We had already made an appointment with a guidance counselor to discuss her eighth grade schedule.  He said once the counselor saw her report card and listened to Carson speak, he would know what to do.  I agreed; my anger subsided, but the blatant disregard of Carson’s strengths and abilities could not be ignored.  I wrote a letter.

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Dear _____________
I am sure you noticed that I did everything in my power not to  engage you in conversation on Friday.  I was very upset by this message, and I did not want to get into an argument.

However, after much thought, I am not angry; I am disappointed.  As you know, I am a teacher myself, and I do everything in my power to encourage the children who excel to do more, to encourage the children who want a challenge to accept it, and to encourage all of my students to be better than they even think they can be.  You do not seem to share this sentiment.  You seem to want to block students from a challenge.  Carson has consistently scored in the 99% in the Iowa Basics, she excels in every subject without trying, and yet, you will not offer her the chance to challenge herself in her academic career.  Is it because you do not  condone public education?  You made it very clear on our very first conference in sixth grade that you did not agree with public school education. 

I will do everything in my power to help my daughter advance.  It saddens me that you do not see the doors you are shutting.  It saddens me that when many of these children look back at these formative years, they will not view you as the teacher who saw their potential and encouraged them to take chances and succeed; you will be the teacher who intimated they could not succeed.

Good luck in all your future endeavors.

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I did not receive a response.  I did not expect one.  I am assuming I will not have any further interaction with this teacher.  I’m all right with that.  I am happy to report that we did go to the public school and register Carson today.  Her exemplary records stood on their own accord.  She will be taking algebra next year!