In a very random life event, I was asked a lot of questions recently by people exploring making a movie about my life. This is not the interesting part, because in Hollywood people are always talking about making movies that come to nothing …
The interesting thing was how many times the answer to a question was,
Sister Marion, my sixth-grade math teacher.
I was not a very prepossessing child.
In fact, if there was such a word as anti-possessing (which there is not), that would have defined me well. I was short, overweight, often dressed in my brother’s too-big clothes because I was too lazy to look for my own uniform and didn’t care about my appearance. I was also the type of child who knew the definition of words like ‘prepossessing’ and mocked other children, and teachers, if they did not. It probably doesn’t surprise you to hear that I was not wildly popular.
My grades were not the best, partly because I often forgot my homework in the mad rush to get five kids out the door early enough that my mother could make it to work on time. Partly it was because I am EXTREMELY near-sighted, a fact no one discovered until the third or fourth grade (thank you, Lions Club vision screening!) and even after that I usually could not see the board because I could not manage to have a pair of glasses for more than a few weeks without losing them. Glasses were not cheap and my family didn’t have a lot of extra cash so it would usually be months between pairs.
Then, I got the chicken pox and was out of school for a week. Despite all of the bewailing about how stupid today’s children are compared to yesteryear, back then we learned fractions in sixth-grade, not fifth, and I had missed the entire week when these were introduced. A petty teacher (and the world has too damn many of those), might have been gratified by the fact that a pain-in-the-ass, know-it-all kid was finally going to be put in her place.
I’d like to think that Sister Marion realized that the only thing I felt I had going for me was being smart and that’s why I had to rub everyone’s face in it. Maybe she realized I needed a friend, and a new perspective.
Whatever it was, she paired me up with another child in the class, Diane, who wasn’t a star student overall, but was very good at math, and told her to explain to me what we had learned while I was out. Not only did I get caught up on fractions, but I learned not to underestimate people based on appearances or first impressions. Just because a person wasn’t a great reader didn’t mean she couldn’t be good at math. Diane and I actually had conversations, and she introduced me to another friend of hers, also named Diane. I called one of the Dianes on the phone – it was the first time I had ever had another kid at school to call – and I was 11.
Sister Marion was nice to me. If you think every teacher is nice to every child then perhaps you need to go back and read the beginning of this post. When I think back, I can only think of two teachers I had before I got expelled from the public school system who were consistently nice to me, Sister Marion and Mr. Cartwright, my 8th grade algebra teacher.
It’s probably no coincidence that I’m good at math and made a career of it.
It’s funny how often when they asked me questions, Sister Marion’s name came up.
Did you have a teacher who you particularly admired?
Was there a teacher who interested you in mathematics?
What made you decide that you wanted to teach?
Who were your role models in life?
I’m not saying that she was the only person who was a role model or who made a difference. However, she was exactly what we try to be at 7 Generation Games – a change in the trajectory that made me shift from doing all right in school with no effort to doing better and better with more effort. She was a person that made me think I could be more than ordinary.
Of course I make an effort to encourage the students who show exceptional effort and ability. Then, I remember Sister Marion and make an extra effort to also encourage students who are annoying, rude, don’t do their work.
When I think of Sister Marion, I am reminded yet again of the truth of that saying:
I touch the future. I teach.
Want to see what I did with math once I grew up?