From the time I was five years old, I was on the nerd fast track.
It started out in kindergarten when I was placed in a program called KEY. I was trying to remember, for a moment, what the acronym “KEY” stood for, but then I realized I don’t actually care enough to figure it out. 😳
So anyways, we “KEY kids” were clustered together in a class throughout elementary school. Because I was in this cluster, when I entered high school my guidance counselor continued to place me in all the advanced placement courses I could possibly take.
The problem was…I began to discover I wasn’t actually a REAL “KEY” kid. I was a fake one–an oily, washed up, poser of a nerd. I certainly looked nerdy. I certainly acted nerdy. But I never really had the brain of a true KEY kid–which I think looked like this:
Whereas my brain looked like this:
So, as you can imagine, when I began to take classes like advanced placement chemistry and pre-calculus or even advanced placement economics–I couldn’t keep up with the true KEY kids’ brains. My brain just couldn’t learn and comprehend the material fast enough.
I wasn’t destined for true KEY greatness. But I kinda decided I didn’t care. Because I was one of those strange kids who didn’t have a competitive bone in my body.
During my junior year of high school, I asked my guidance counselor if I could stay in my advanced literature classes, but I wanted to be taken out of the AP science and math ones. I was tired of pretending to be a real KEY kid. I said, “I want to go to ‘regular biology’ and ‘regular chemistry.'”
before I had that epiphany to get myself out of KEY math and science, I SUFFERED through the first semester of precalculus my junior year.
I was placed in the class of a teacher I’ll call Mr. Dorian. Mr. Dorian reminded me of the McDonalds land character, Grimace–the big, purple guy who was always smiling. So Mr. Dorian was like that guy except for he didn’t smile. So I guess you would say he was a mean Grimace.
The weird thing, though, was that he was actually nice to me. I knew no one in that class. Everyday, I came in, listened to the boring lecture, asked a million questions since I never understood the lecture, and then would do my work. There were seniors in my class who were smart, but seemed to bother Mr. Dorian. They didn’t pay attention to his lectures and would goof off in the back of the room. Mr. Dorian would vacillate between ignoring them and giving them ridiculously stern consequences.
I felt uncomfortable in his classroom. I felt like he had made me into “the teacher’s pet” yet I could never please him, since I had no freaking clue HOW to do precalculus.
Meanwhile, several of my closest friends were across the hallway during the same class period doing the same precalculus class–except for they were with my another math teacher who I adored named Mr. Cordell.
Mr. Cordell was the opposite of Mr. Dorian. He knew how to relate to kids. He was approachable and made us laugh. He was kind of like Ronald McDonald.
And Ronald McDonald is much more popular than Grimace.
Every day, I walked out of Mr. Dorian’s class when the bell rang, and would catch my friends across the hallway, leaving Mr. Cordell’s class, with smiles on their faces. They were happier than me because they had Mr. Cordell, right? That had to be it. Mr. Cordell made learning fun. And I wanted to have Mr. Cordell, too, damnit!
I made an appointment with my guidance counselor, Mr. Kammeyer.
“Mr. Kammeyer,” I nervously stammered. “Um, I was wondering if you could change my schedule and if I could be in the same exact class I’m in now, but just with a different teacher.”
“Why?” Mr. Kammeyer asked me.
As I started to rationalize to him that all my friends were in this other class and how Ronald McDonald’s teaching style was better suited for me, I could see him looking at me sideways with one eyebrow raised. He wasn’t buying what I was selling.
Mr. Kammeyer turned to me and said, “Okay, Emily. I’ll make the change. But only on one condition. You have to go to Mr. Dorian and tell him that you asked to be changed to Mr. Cordell and why.”
This is the kind of stuff that makes me shake in my boots. Confrontation. Telling someone you aren’t choosing him. Awkward conversations that you know will be awkward no matter how you say it.
But, I believed I had to do it in order to save my precalculus ass.
And, I don’t remember how it went down exactly, since my nervousness and anxiety was on overdrive during the 5 second conversation with Grimace, but it happened something like this.
I ran over to Grimace while he was standing in the hallway monitoring students during a passing period.
“Mr. Dorian, I just wanted to let you know that I’m not going to be in your class anymore. I asked to be changed over to Mr. Cordell because I am more comfortable being in his class.”
He looked at me. And for the first time, I got the stern version of Grimace, looking back at me. There was no smile. He looked very annoyed. And maybe even hurt.
(As a teacher now, myself, I understand how he felt. If a student were to come to me and tell me he didn’t want to be in my class anymore, I would feel rejected and confused. I would want answers. It would be difficult to not take it personally, because I care about my craft and my students).
But before he could say anything else to me, I ran away. Like, I freaking bolted down that hallway at Kokomo High School as fast as my scrawny, nerdy legs could go, and ran into my next period class.
I felt like a piece of sh*t. Like diarrhea sh*t. Not the good kind of sh*t, if there is such a thing. And, I didn’t feel “free,” after changing over to Mr. Cordell like I thought I might. I didn’t feel one ounce better, in fact, even as I was sitting in his happy Ronald McDonald class with my friends. I realized that my unhappiness in precalculus had nothing to do with who my teacher was–it had to do with the fact that I simply could not do precalculus.
I finished that semester of precalculus, and got by with a B-. I dropped the class, because I finally realized I just didn’t have that math brain that could do hard math things.
But I still think about what Mr. Kammeyer asked me to do and why he asked me to do it. He wanted me to learn what it meant to be held accountable for my actions. And in this day and age where we have so much emailing and texting and snapchatting and messaging and other ways that we hide behind this little computer that we call our phones–THIS is a lost art.
Telling someone your truth–your story–to his or her face is HARD.
It feels so much easier to not be seen. Being seen equates to being vulnerable and that’s scary.
But our lives don’t occur in this box we call a telephone. We come to life in the real world. The real world is where we live and talk and think and communicate with other people. The real world is where we develop integrity in our interactions with others. The real world is messy. There’s no delete button or backspace. But it’s real.
And that’s a notion I hold close to my heart.