In which I know nothing at all


Today’s Daily Prompt:

You’re 12 years old. It’s your birthday. Write for ten minutes on that memory. GO.

I can only do this if I type very slowly, because I  r e m e m b e r   n o t h i n g.  Nothing at all.  Zip.  Zilch.  I found out in one of my grad school classes that some non-trivial percentage of adults can remember little more from, say, 10 to 14 than they can from birth to 5.  I have more clear memories from elementary school than I do from seventh and eighth grade, although I guess if I was turning 12 I’d have been in between sixth and seventh, since I was young for my grade.  At any rate, I’ve got nothing at all and even filibustering for a few sentences I’ve only been writing for a minute or so.

(Man.  I’ve been sitting here for several more minutes and I can’t come up with a birthday party story in general worth telling.  Let’s turn this one on you guys: what do you think my twelfth birthday party must have been like?  ENTERTAIN ME WITH YOUR LIES.)

(Real post later; I’ve got a meeting this afternoon so I’m killing an hour at home for lunch.)

More answers to this question after the jump:

Continue reading “In which I know nothing at all”

On intimidation

20130812-192122.jpgAnd suddenly, now, with just barely over a week left until school starts, I’m stressed out.

The worst teacher I ever had– by such a margin that the title is not even in question– was my freshman honors Algebra teacher. I got a D in his class during the third quarter; I don’t remember the grades in the other three, because the D was so shocking– it was not only the only D I got in my entire academic career, I’m almost certain that there weren’t even any Cs to keep it company.

After every test, he would change the seats. He’d arrange everyone by grade, with no attention paid to any other aspect of seat arrangement– such as, say, whether you could see the board or not. The lower your grade got, the closer you were to the front of the room. The very worst grade in the class was reserved for the front row, right by his desk.

He let you retake tests for a better grade. The retake test would be from a different textbook, though, and if you were retaking Chapter Four’s test, you’d better hope that Chapter Four from that other textbook covered the same material or something you could handle, because if not, too bad– he averaged the two grades together, meaning it was entirely possible to pull your grade down for the retake. Weirdly, most of the kids in his class hadn’t figured out how he was coming up with these new tests; I think most of them just thought either he was really hard or they were stupid. No, he was stupid. And lazy, and destructive.

One of my finer moments in my freshman year– and, honestly, there weren’t many; most of my freshman year memories are painful in some way or another– was figuring his game out halfway through a test retake that I was utterly bombing and, instead of turning the thing in at the end of the hour he’d given us after school, ripping the thing to shreds and throwing it away instead. Minor rebellions, obviously, but it felt good: I figured out your game, John, and you can go fuck yourself.

I hated that fucker. Now, twenty-two or so years later, I’m teaching his class– my honors 8th graders are taking freshman-level Algebra. I have the textbook right in front of me. Now, mind you, I know this shit. I made it through the year and I have repeatedly demonstrated over the course of the intervening years (if nothing else, by passing the PRAXIS; I was in the ninth decile somewhere) that I can handle this material.

But man, am I suddenly sweating teaching it.

Flipping through the book has been intermittently terrifying in the way that flipping through math textbooks is always terrifying; looking over what I’ll be covering in the first six weeks revealed a couple of vocabulary words that I didn’t immediately remember the definitions of but produced an “Oh, that” type of reaction when I found the definitions. Most of it really isn’t so far from the math I’m teaching. But I don’t want to be adequate about this. I want to already be the best Math teacher these kids have ever had, and by the end of taking their second Math class with me I want to be even better.

Terror! Whee!

One other thing that’s hammering on me, here, is the teacher I had for sophomore year math– Geometry, in other words. At the time, he was the best Math teacher I’d ever had, and one of the best teachers, period. Then I had him again for Calculus senior year. And it wasn’t the same. I don’t know what changed, really; if I just had really bad senioritis and I wasn’t prepared to take his class as seriously as it deserved (I was also taking Physics, which was kicking my ass just as hard as Calculus was, but I was excelling in Physics despite the workload) or if he didn’t feel as confident about the material, or if he was trying to Hold Us to a Higher Standard and it just wasn’t working out, or what. But it wasn’t the same. If I’d only had him for Calculus, I’d have forgotten his name by now, and honestly my goodwill toward his class would have worn out a hell of a lot sooner. I only made it as far as I did because I’d liked him so much sophomore year.

These kids loved me when they had me in sixth grade. (Something like 30 of the 33 kids were in my class that year; this isn’t an exaggeration.) Now they’ve got me two years later, for what should be a much harder class. This isn’t exactly a shaky analogy I’m constructing here.

Not only do I have to do better than one of the worst teachers I ever had, at the material he was supposed to teach me, which is intimidating enough, I have to outdo one of the best teachers I ever had, by being better than he was the second time around.

I ain’t saying I’ve bitten off more than I can chew; I don’t think I have. But damn, does my mouth feel full right now.