Monday, August 10, 2009

Memories of Me Monday

I'm going to TRY and do this each Monday. Write a memory of my childhood. Perhaps eventually I will have somewhat of a life history written!

To make it fun, and kinda random, I'm going to draw a slip of paper each Monday from a jar that my BFF, Judy, gave me some years back (thx, Judy!). It's got hundreds of slips of paper in it, and each one has a question on it, designed to jog my memory and assist in writing my life history. But I'm not going to limit myself to the exact question if I don't want to. In fact, sometimes I may take just one word out of the sentence, if that one word is what jogs a memory.

Want to play along?

Then here's today's memory jogger: "Describe the teacher you hated most in high school. Why was he/she your least favorite?"

For me, the first memory that came to mind was of a teacher in elementary school, not high school, but I'm going to go with it because the important thing is not to block myself by trying to adhere to the exact question....but to get those memories written!

Here goes:

In the third grade I went to Eden Prairie Elementary School in Hopkins, Minnesota. Well, it might not have been in Hopkins, maybe it was a town nearby, because we had to ride a bus to get there. We lived in a housing development where all the houses had about a half acre of land so it was more like living in the country than the suburbs.

My third grade teacher was Mrs. Olsen. She was an older woman, plump with grey hair, and she was no-nonsense. When we took tests she patrolled the classroom the entire time, passing slowly up and down the aisles between our desks, posture ramrod straight, her head turning side to side while she looked down her nose at each student. You could practically feel those eyes boring into you. I bet there was no cheating going on in that classroom! We didn't dare take our eyes off our own papers.

I would certainly not say that I hated Mrs. Olsen, but I was afraid of her. I was scared that I'd unknowingly step out of line (she had a lot of rules and it was hard to remember them all) and be scolded and that would bring the attention of the entire class on me. I was very shy and preferred to go unnoticed.

I was also petrified of her disapproval - she gave you the impression that if you were not up to her standards in any area you were hopeless and would never amount to anything. I doubt she ever said anything of the sort to us, but in my 9 year old mind I was sure that was her opinion.

What I remember most about third grade, and Mrs. Olsen, is learning to write cursive, and fractions.

That was the year I learned to hate math. Cursive writing? That came easy. But fractions! I was absolutely tortured by them.

Math tests were horrendous for me. I just didn't understand fractions. I did terrible on the tests. And on the days that Mrs. Olsen walked about the room handing back our tests with the big red number at the top indicating how many we got right, and our letter grade, were some of the worst days of my life. I can still remember how hard my heart would pound in my chest, s hard it hurt, and I could barely breathe. I knew my test results would be bad, and I'd get the "look" from Mrs. Olsen, and the sigh, and the briefly closed eyes, as though she were wishing herself anywhere but in that classroom where she was saddled with such a dunderhead as me for a student.

I took my math test results very hard -- too hard -- and very personally. And, yep, I usually did poorly. Then one Friday we were taking our weekly spelling test. Since I was an avid, and had been an early, reader, spelling came very easily to me. I nearly always got 100%.

On that particular Friday I could hear sniffling behind me. It seemed more than the usual sniffle from a cold and so I glanced back over my shoulder. In the row next to mine, about 3 desks back, was the boy who was doing the sniffling. And he was crying!

I stared down at my paper, with half of the day's words neatly printed (and spelled correctly), my pencil poised as I waited for Mrs. Olsen to give the next word. Taking another quick peek back I watched the boy swipe at his eyes, rub furiously at his paper with his eraser, then rewrite his answer. A tear splashed onto his paper. I turned back and stared straight ahead. I almost missed writing the next word as I tried to come to terms wiith someone who couldn't spell. Couldn't spell? The easiest thing in the world!

I was filled with empathy for that boy, whose name I don't remember, nor do I remember what he looked like except that he was dark-haired. I do remember that he was given no sympathy whatever from Mrs. Olsen; in fact, I don't think she even noticed that he was crying, at least she gave no indication of it.

It was then that I realized that everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and that we all have different ones. What comes easily to one person may be very difficult for another. That boy probably had no trouble with math. I sure did, but then spelling was a breeze.

I think I may have eased up on myself just a bit after that, with regard to my math scores. It was still my worst subject, and I still dreaded math test days, but at least I did try to remind myself that I was good at lots of other subjects.

I'm still plagued by what I think of as a "chronic math weakness." I can do only the simplest of calculations in my head. I still don't know the entire multiplication table (I get stumped by 7's, 8's, 11, and 12's). When I was writing computer programs, anytime I needed to include a calculation routine, I would call Mike and have him write it out for me. Then I could translate it into code. Word problems, of course, are the worst. I love puzzles, but if it's of the word problem variety my mind immediately goes blank.

I keep trying to improve, though; in fact, just a few days ago at the library book sale I picked up a workbook called "Mastery Drills in Arithmetic" in the children's section. I'm going to work through that book, especially the section on fractions. I'm determined to understand them better.

Mrs. Olsen will be so proud.

1 comment:

Judy said...

Girlfriend, I love your post! I could just feel your mortification and struggle and I felt so sorry for that boy right along with you! I like the idea of Memory Monday - I'll play! Tho it'll probably be "Memory Catch-Up Tuesday" for me. Funny thing my friend-- the first memory that immediately came to me was a 3rd grade one too! Those were impactful days, weren't they?