Ninth grade is one of those really big milestones for me. No, I’m not talking about my completion of ninth grade, but as I think about this, perhaps so. Tenth grade signaled the end of an awkwardness that took up residence around the age of 11 and sowed many seeds of doubt about who I was to become in this life. But it’s the RT I’m talking about at this point, and not me. With just 18 or so days left of school this year, I find myself taking stock of this very soon to be young man — the youngest of my three, and the only one I’ve had the pleasure of “mothering” for the past six months without the distraction of my own career.
So what has brought this on? It’s one of those things that has been on the back burner, simmering, festering, wanting to be put down in written words. Spoken words have all been used throughout the year — and some not so kind. And now it’s just a story. Another story that will sit alongside so many others in the volume we’ve created as parents of the RT. And it’s unique, because neither of my other two boys ever had an experience with a teacher quite like that of the RT and The Geometry Teacher. Yes. Her.
When the RT got in the car after school a couple of days ago, it took little time after he had slung his 80 lb. back pack into the trunk before settling into the passenger seat and exclaiming, “Today was the most efficient day I’ve ever had in school.” Well. If that didn’t stop me in my tracks, then nothing ever would. It was one of those moments that had to be written down, as monumental as it seemed, or become lost in all the others that accumulate over time. One, because they — adolescents — just don’t say things like this often; and two, they aren’t often recognized for routinely sharing their revelations — especially with one of their parents. Whether the relationship with the parents is a comfy one, is a completely different issue.
Don’t get me wrong. The RT is an exceptional human — if you can get over his slovenliness — but that’s really not anything we pull our hair out over. It just makes him more warm and fuzzy to us. I know. Gross. But it’s true. He’s a nice kid. Very. And his outlook on humanity is a model for others to consider. If you ask him about what he thinks the biggest problem the world has to deal with, he will tell you that it’s global warming. He can also tell you why he thinks that, throwing in the scientific theory behind the concern. He will also say that he believes obesity is our country’s biggest concern because it’s creating significant health problems for people who aren’t getting proper care. He genuinely likes people and sees good in everyone. He has absolutely no expectation that many people can be very cruel, and like spiders, ready themselves to dart across carefully crafted misery webs to trap unsuspecting humans and wrap them in darkness. Oh…*ahem*…got a bit carried away there. Still… The Geometry Teacher. The award goes to her for being the first person — not just teacher, but person — to have alerted the RT to another kind of human in this world.
I knew things would be less than great when the MoH called me at school one night very early in the school year while I was still at work. He had attended another Open House without me and when my cell rang, I glanced at the clock and thought it odd, because he had only been at the school for a short while. What could be going on? “The Geometry Teacher’s a freak,” he began, in a very terse voice. I could tell he was walking as he spoke because he had that shaking kind of sound going on with this voice. Either that or he was ready to blow.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“Nothing. I just walked out in the middle of her presentation. She’s a complete freak,” he continued, clearly pissed off. And that’s odd, too, because the MoH never gets that worked up over school stuff. Well, except for that first grade teacher. And maybe that one math teacher in middle school. Okay. So I lied. Anyway…it quickly became evident that we’d have quite the discussion when we both got home that evening.
How can I explain the feeling of being between a rock and a hard place with a teacher who:
- Puts a zero on homework because the notebook paper we purchased for the RT was not exactly 8.5″ x 11?” That’s right. The paper was 10.5″ x 8.” Three different stores sold paper this size, so you just don’t think about it because, hell, maybe it’s about conservation — you know? So the RT received many zeros before we realized that we were at fault here and that his paper was a half-inch too small on two sides. Wait. I could give you the difference in area…..
- Won’t respond to emails because of some phobia about having her writing in print like evidence that could be used against her in a court of law;
- Makes her students copy the problem. No, I’m not just saying that she asks them to copy the algorithm — I mean like, “The given vector represents the velocity of…” You get the idea. Some of these scenarios are almost a paragraph long and when there are 20 or more problems to complete, what is the kid spending most of his time doing? Copying the problem or doing the geometry? Right.
- Takes points off if she can’t read the part that was copied, so when the grade comes, it isn’t clear whether the kid is being evaluated on his knowledge of geometry, or copying. And since the RT has dysgraphia, I can guarantee you her routine red-ink evaluations have been on his ability to copy — not do geometry. Oh! But you can photocopy the “problems” and paste them onto the homework paper if you’d like. Uh….I’m supposed to go out and buy a photocopier and do this nightly? Didn’t cutting and pasting happen in Kindergarten? Oh, I forgot. All I ever really needed to know I learned in Kindergarten.
- Allows students to make 3″ x 5″ cheat cards for quizzes and exams, but collects them at the door when students are done with their exams. That means that instead of being able to reuse the cards for future tests — because knowledge is built on what precedes it, right? — they have to create new ones. I created the RT’s cards on the computer just once and it took a very long time. His handwriting is so illegible, he can’t even read it at times, so my eyeballs were popping out of my head, and my drug store glasses not getting the job done with their .5 magnification lenses.
- Won’t attend meetings that the parents request and the school holds to discuss student need. Like, we get it that our kid has a problem, so what can we do together to help him? But the instigator, the one making it worse, can’t even come to the table to work out a solution? This is extremely challenging when I’ve done what she has done — been in her situation — had teachers on my staff in her situation -and never — EVER — have I seen this kind of unprofessional behavior. Ever. In the real world, she would have been fired so long ago.
- Review test answers with students the day after the test by working out problems on the board, but does not allow them to take notes so they can actually LEARN from the experience. And they’re not allowed to have a pencil out when this whole thing is going on. Huh? So this would be an exercise in long term auditory memory — well visual if you count being able to memorize what she had written on the board — and not geometry.
So the RT’s very excellent and efficient day? Well in spite of The Geometry Teacher — or because of The Geometry Teacher, part of the thing we’ve been working on since I’ve been at home is to encourage, support, cajole, reprimand, and force him to be aware of and responsible for his learning. That is huge. It isn’t that we weren’t working on those things before, because those are things that have to be worked on. But it doesn’t mean sitting down with him as he does his school work — although we’ve done that. It doesn’t mean digging through his back pack to find missing assignments he has completed but hasn’t turned in — but we’ve done that, too, finding 4 fermented apples and all. It doesn’t mean that I ever do his work for him, which would mean that I’d have to relearn it myself — although I, too, have at least done the “copying” of the completely ridiculous geometry problems so Her Highness could read his papers. And it absolutely doesn’t mean that I paid a tutor $75 an hour to tutor him. But that was the next thing on my agenda. Of course, I’d have to get a job to afford it, but goodness. I could tutor middle school students in English for $75 an hour and then use the money to pay for the RT’s tutoring. Or barter — you tute my kid and I’ll tute yours.
It means he finally took himself to the library to work with junior volunteers after school — kids who actually like math, and understand math differently than the RT may, and who have survived THE GEOMETRY TEACHER. They survived her — not just her class.
And you know what? The RT got a B+ on his last test — only 2% from an A-. Woo-Hoo! Now are we sure that means he understands the concepts? Who knows? But what it does mean to me — his mom, and erstwhile English Teacher? It means that I suppose you can force your kids to do what you want — what you believe is good for them — like these folks — but ultimately, I think it’s about persistent talk, nudging, suggesting, telling, expecting, and relentless questioning, so they’ll get there themselves. So they feel it was their accomplishment, because it should be theirs. They deserve that very important feeling as they mature into adults.
The Geometry Teacher will always represent this important time in our lives when my youngest, and very accepting son, not only realizes that life is often like a game, and that sometimes, there are people who make it more challenging for us to succeed, unlike others who thrive on supporting success. Ironically, the unsupportive people we happen upon exist to help us learn more about ourselves. It’s not especially pleasant to realize, but sometimes, those who are supposed to help the most, don’t.