There is a girl in my advanced class who has been completely lost the entire year. She somehow made her way into tenth grade geometry, despite failing the final exam for the prerequisite course and being effectively unable to solve simple equations for x at the beginning of this year. Within the last few weeks, after nearly a year in my tenth-grade-geometry-for-advanced-eighth-graders class, she has asked me what the word “perpendicular” means, and informed me that a question was impossible because she got 3/2 as her answer and that number doesn’t exist.
I hate that my school advances kids because of how good it looks for us rather than how appropriate it is for them, and I have enormous trouble staying patient with advanced students who can’t keep up. I can explain anything calmly a million times with my standard 8th graders and will help kids add on their fingers all day long… but as soon as a kid gets the “advanced” label my brain just shorts out in frustration if they can’t follow me. So this girl has probably been able to see my teeth gnash and my eyeballs pop in annoyance when I pass her back yet another failed test full of completely off-base and incorrect calculations. I always feel like the worst teacher ever when she’s around.
Yet last week, I saw her mom after school and the woman rushed over, shook my hand, and started thanking me profusely for the effect I’ve had on her daughter. She says the girl talks about me all the time and has literally used the word “hero”. There was a day when she was whining endlessly about how she always failed everything and was never going to pass my class, and I looked at her pointedly (probably in a rage of impatience) and said, “Well, are you doing anything to fix that?” I remember it mostly because that was when we developed our fix-her-grade plan that involved her spending lunch AND recess in my classroom every single day, reviewing and re-taking tests one by one, starting from the beginning of the year. I thought she just followed through because she feared my frustration and wrath if she didn’t. But Mom recounted the story, told through her daughter’s eyes, as the moment when “something clicked” and she realized she was in control of her own success.
She chatted away happily, inviting me to church barbeques and not even concerned about whether her daughter actually does pass my class in the end. Meanwhile, my world was spinning as I tried to re-calibrate. In my head, I’ve been this impatient, awful monster teacher, and in her head I’ve been a role model teaching her daughter life-changing lessons. Ha. That’s a twist in the story I wasn’t expecting.