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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

What Don't You Understand?

Yesterday was an all day exercise in patience as we responded to Mr S. calling for us to do something about the pain in his back. Anna was able to get him a same day appointment at the VA Clinic and we took him there. He was very well treated and carefully examined and the doctor ordered x-rays to be done right away. The suspicion being that somehow Mr S. may have fractured a rib or two in his back. It is not as difficult as it seems, I have cracked my own ribs coughing at a much younger and healthier age. Now we wait for results and then probably more pain meds for Mr S.

The weather forecast for today is partially sunny and reaching for a high of 71F with no chance of rain, but SW 15 mph winds pushing more clouds in on us.

I had told this story to a group recently and they thought it was humorous, so I decided to share it here. If we are not careful this will once again become the standard of education. Read, enjoy and think.

What Don't You Understand?
In the fall of 1970, (my senior year of high school), my dad transferred from Miami, Florida to Augusta, Georgia. He went from being one of the "crew", to being the boss. He was the Facility Chief at the control tower located on Bush Field, (a very beautiful airport) and it was an excellent career move.... for him.

But for me, it meant leaving all the people that I knew behind; not graduating with my lifelong friends, and leaving familiarity for the unknown. No more getting together with the cousins, or any family. There were no relatives in Augusta.

This would be my third high school in as many years, and I decided that I was through trying to make any new friends, before I even started.

The school day (and year) was just getting underway when I checked in at the office, but they already had my transcripts there waiting. As the secretary went down her checklist of things to tell me and have me sign, she said, "Now y'all will have to earn 18 credits to graduate.... My Word! Honey, will you look at this! This boy already has 24 credits! " and the other office lady said, "Well I Never!" as she flipped the pages of my records back and forth. These records had come through the mail, so they knew that I hadn't "doctored them up" to try and get out of school or something. I wasn't sure what the big deal was about 24 credits.

I could have taken "recess" as my major endeavor that year and still had 6 credits too many at graduation time. I did consider it, but I didn't do it, I took four classes; Math (?), Psychology, English Literature and DECA (a work study program).

My first stop in the day was Homeroom, in the same classroom as my English Literature would be later in the day, and with my EL teacher, Mr. G., as the "Zoo Keeper" in charge. I wasn't sure, being the new guy and all, but some of these people seemed a bit "slow," and others were so stuck up it was ridiculous. The bell sounded and it was off to the second floor and my math class, what kind of math I didn't know. When I asked, the secretary in the office said, "Honey I don't know... it's just math, you know, with numbers and such". I waited for the punch line ... but it never came.

I hurried up the stairs and into the classroom; piece of cake, I had lots of time left. George P. Butler High School was a much smaller campus than my last two schools, where you sometimes had to run between classes and forget stopping at your locker or going to the bathroom, because if you did you would be late and the door would be locked. And a referral slip to the office would be waiting inside with your name on it all ready to go.

The math teacher was a young man of well dressed, refined good looks. He was about 6'4" and athletic looking, with brown hair and according to the melting young ladies in the desks in front of him, more than passably handsome.

Mr. M. was in just his second year of teaching and already wondering why he not gone into another line of work. It wasn't that he didn't like teaching, he loved it, but the students were more of a "challenge" than he had anticipated.

When the bell rang and roll had been taken, Mr. M. walked up and down the aisles handing a test paper to each student individually, which I wondered about, why didn't he just hand them to the front row and have them passed back.

Later I would learn that at the first of the year the papers would get to the second, maybe third person back and they wouldn't know what to do with them. I kid you not! These folks had me puzzled. I think lead paint consumption might have happened in their young lives.

Mr. M. went over what he wanted us to do, three times, and so slowly that I was about to nod off waiting. All he said was, "take this test so that I can see where each of you are in your math skills. Do all the questions, if you can, and after you complete the last problem, put your pencils down on your desk and bring your test paper to me, and put it in my hands, don't just lay it down somewhere." OK ALREADY! Geez!

I opened the test and almost busted up laughing, this guy is cool, what a gag he pulled on us! When I looked up to catch him grinning at us; he wasn't. In fact he looked grim, which was another puzzle to me. OK fine, if you really want me to add, subtract, multiply and divided regular old numbers, I can play along.

It took all of two or three minutes to do, and then I got up and walked up to Mr. M's desk at the front of the room. I waited patiently for him to look up from his papers, so that I could hand him my completed test. Without even looking up, he said, "What don't you understand?" I said, "What?" not believing my ears. And then he did look up, (with a sad and frustrated looking face that said it all to me) and repeated, slowly, "What, Don't, You, Understand?" He wasn't playing, he was serious!

I said, "I am done with the test Mr. M., here it is, what would you like me to do now?" He looked at me like I was a space alien or something and took the test out of my hands and put it on his desk. He laid the answer key over top of it and went down the rows of answers, looked up at me with a quizzical look on his face and then checked it all over again. I didn't know whether to laugh or just scratch my head in amazement; this was just elementary school mathematics, was it supposed to be hard?

When I looked back at the class to see what was happening behind me, I found most of them staring at Mr. M. and myself. They were deeply engrossed in the "drama" unfolding before them, and they weren't done with their tests yet. Some of them actually looked desperate and confused. What in the world is going on here?

Mr. M., apparently satisfied that I had indeed answered everything correctly, called my attention back to him and told the class to get back to work. Then he called me around to his side of the desk, (where he had opened his grade book and laid it where we both could see it.) I thought, what? Is he going to show me that he entered my grade for the test or what? This was getting to be a bizarre class already!

But that was far from what he had in mind. The teacher drew a pencil line across the middle of the grade book and said, "You take the kids from here (pointing at the line) down and I'll work on the others.
And that's just what we did, we split the class in two and had our groups face opposite ends of the classroom, (there was a blackboard at each end) and we both taught General Math in that classroom the entire year. By the end of the year almost all of the students could do that same test from the first day in under five minutes. Some sadly were still working on their names. 

That was the most rewarding and satisfying class that I ever had in school. And Mr. M. decided to stick around for "one more year" and see if it works out. Last I heard he's still there, still teaching math, and probably still scratching his head and wondering why he hadn't gone into another profession. 

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