Algebra Trauma

Describe the worst teacher you ever had.  (I think this should be describe the BEST teacher you ever had.  Or maybe both.)

Wow.  The first teacher I thought of was the guy who taught algebra when I was a freshman in high school.  I think he was old then, but maybe he was only about 60, which doesn’t sound so old to me now.  I’m going to guess that his name was Mr. Demaris, but it may have been something else or something similar to that.

If we haven’t already established this, math was always my most difficult subject, followed closely by science.  The exception to the math rule was geometry, which I understood fairly well and passed my sophomore year.  But algebra?  I simply didn’t understand it.  I managed to pass it by cheating, which I’m not proud of, but at the time seemed the only way.  I couldn’t imagine what would happen to me if I failed a class.  It simply wasn’t done.

In my memory Mr. D. had an accent of some sort, German, maybe, that made him hard to understand.  So consider being taught a subject you don’t understand by someone who speaks in a way that you also can’t understand.  (It’s entirely possible he had no discernible accent but that everything he said about algebra sounded like a foreign language to me.) I was doomed.  I also think Mr. D. had a grudge against me because my older brother had been through his class(es) and I don’t think Mr. D. thought very highly of him.  If I recall, rumor was, my brother slept quite a bit during school.

What made Mr. D. a bad teacher for me was that I don’t think he cared.  He expected his students to understand the material.  If we didn’t, we were not worthy of his time and effort.  That’s my perception, and probably wasn’t accurate then and isn’t all these years later.

If I’d ever thought of going to college after high school, knowing I’d have to pass college math courses killed that idea.  I’d barely survived freshman algebra.  After geometry, I never took another math class.  If I got to college I was convinced I’d be stuck there because I wouldn’t be able to pass the math classes required to get a degree.

In my defense, I watched my children progress through kindergarten and college.  I wouldn’t say math was their strong suit either, but they were better at it than me.  But they also had some bad math teachers, as well as some good ones.  One in particular was my daughter’s seventh-grade instructor.  She might even have been in an advanced math class that year, but she succeeded.  I give credit to the teacher.

College algebra was a challenge for my daughter (just like it would have been for me!).  I reminded her that she didn’t have to get an A in the class, she just had to pass it.  We hired a tutor and guess what?  She passed.

Oddly, every job I’ve ever had has been math-related.  I love bookkeeping and I’m good at it.  There are moments now when I can almost do algebra.  Maybe it was a lack of maturity that had me struggling so in my youth.

I thought this question should have been about who was the best teacher you ever had.  Again, an easy answer.  Mrs. Dalton.  High school English.  I loved her.  But then I loved English class.  Anything to do with reading and writing I’m there.  I think why she stands out in my mind is because she had us do a paper and it was something about asking questions that will help you in life.  I do believe her intent was to answer them for us.

Somehow, I got called in for a special session with her.  I can’t remember the reason why unless it was that my questions were so brilliant they baffled her.  We ended up having this rather long talk.  I do remember one question I wrote.  “How do you tell when people are sincere?”  She answered:  By what they do not by what they say.

Boy did that stick with me through the years.  I think our whole session was very emotional.  I was late to my civics class and she wrote me an excuse.  My civics teacher didn’t think much of that.

Like every other profession there are good teachers and bad teachers.  Both leave their mark.

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