Today in journalism we were going over review questions for the kids’ Citizen Kane test, and we discussed what made the Susan Alexander character change from a sweet even-tempered happy person to the screeching shrew she is half-way through. So I told my story:
In 8th grade my math teacher informed me I’d never be able to do math. A couple months into the year he asked me the answer to a problem. I said I didn’t know, so he had me walk to the front of the room and write question out on the chalk board. Then he told me to stand there until I could answer the question.
I distinctly remember the day. I was sick and it was cold. I sneezed and got snot all over my hand, but he wouldn’t give me a Kleenex, and he wouldn’t let me sit down. For an entire class period I looked at the board and tried to figure out the answer by yellow chalk osmosis, but no luck. My friends were trying to signal answers to me in sign language, but my eyes were too blurry from my cold and from crying.
The next year I had the BEST MATH TEACHER EVER. Later he even won the best teacher in the state of Texas. Mr. Brown explained that I had a mental block where numbers were concerned, and he was right. Any time it came time to do a math test, I was lost. I could’ve done the problems a million times in a million ways, but when that test landed on my desk, I was lost. The numbers would blur, my breath would catch in my chest, I’d start shaking. That eighth grade teacher was right. I’d never be able to do math. Mr. Brown would call me to his desk and take my test and ask me step by step what to do. He wouldn’t give me the answer. He made me tell him what to do. Eventually, I’d get the answer and go back to my desk where once again, I was lost. To this day numbers cause me problems. I took four years of French at University to avoid ONE college math class. A short while before I graduated I took college math to prove to myself that the SOB teacher I had in eighth grade was wrong, but it took YEARS for me to have the confidence to do it. And even though I took and passed that class, I still freak out if I see a bunch of numbers and I’m asked to solve a problem using them.
Then I asked how many of them have something they feel like that about. Something that scares the crap out of them to that extent. 100% of them raised their hands.
So I pointed out that that was what the character Susan Alexander had to live with every day for years. They totally understood.
Later we talked about why some teachers don’t get it when they don’t "get it." I told them research shows most teachers were great students. They never struggled with school, so they don’t get us when we do. I try hard to be a teacher who does get it, but sometimes I mess up. Like this year when I passed out an essay test and one of my kids asked what the word heroic meant, and my response was "well obviously you don’t want to answer that question." I said that to her in front of the entire class, and ever single person in the class laughed, and I was slammed back to that moment in eighth grade standing in front of that stupid green chalkboard. I immediately apologized and showed her the dictionaries in the room, and then I told all the kids they should have a small dictionary with them all the time so they can look up words they don’t know when they’re reading. It was the first time they’d been given that advice. Strange. I learned that trick in third grade.
A couple years ago I toyed with the idea of removing Citizen Kane from my curriculum, but I love the movie so much because of its depth. The discussion we had today in class has sealed the deal. Kane’s not going anywhere.