Stuck In The Middle

In high school I took geometry.  A warning for anyone thinking about taking geometry in high school:  don’t.

I was excited to be taking it because for the first time in my high school ‘career’ I  had  nailed a 4.0 grade in algebra the year before.  I thought I must be a mathematical genius.  I loved math.  Algebra was like puzzle solving.  And I learned that I enjoyed that process.  Solving and resolving.  Loved it.

Within days of starting the geometry class….problems became evident.  This class ended up quite literally sucking all of the joy of living right out of me.  And by the questions being asked by others, out of them as well.  I dreaded walking in to that classroom.

The day I stopped asking questions was the day the teacher said “any questions?”  and one of us said “I don’t understand it”.  Her response was “that’s not a question”.   And she refused to go on.  Unless someone asked a question.  I wracked my brain for something to ask.  But I couldn’t understand it enough to even form a question.  Now, sometoomany years later I think of one question that I could have asked:   “could you please explain it again?”   But I don’t know if that would have passed muster either.

It wasn’t too long in to the semester when our teacher surprised us one day as we filed in and sat down.   She has all stand back up.  She pointed out seats along her left side and had students she named sit over there.  Then she pointed out seats to her right and named students to sit over there.  I was still standing.  In the middle row she sat me and about four other students.  Right down the middle from the front of the class to the back.

She didn’t explain it.  And went about her lessons.

Me:  oblivious.

Others:  outraged.

Someone at one point said “did you just divide us into the smart side and the stupid side?”   I looked around.  People did not look happy.   I was stunned.  One, that the student asked that.  Two, that that is what it did appear to be once it was pointed out.

The teacher smiled.  She said that’s not what she would call it but if that’s what we wanted to call it, we could.   She did tell us we could do better and move ‘up’ or if we struggled we could be moved to one of the other groups.

She had divided us in to different ‘sections’ because of the struggles.  And she assigned homework according to the group you were in.  I wasn’t smart enough to be in the smart group.  I wasn’t dumb enough to be in the dumb group.

I was stuck in the middle.

I was just okay.

Nothing stellar.  Nothing dull.  I was just…there.

I learned to not say “I don’t understand”.   I learned that people do rate you on certain performances that really don’t show the whole you or the able you or the best of you.  Even though I didn’t fully comprehend this, it was evident in the rest of my time with that teacher.

In fact…I truly learned very little then.  I have thought about this often and wondered if it had anything to do with my high school average-ness.

I never asked questions in that class.  I never fully understood what geometry was.  I still don’t.  I don’t care to know.  I don’t care to find out.   I literally sweated out the rest of that semester in that class.  I did my homework.  I did ‘okay’.  I never strived to do better, because I was happy to not be ‘dumb’ and too naive to think I was capable of doing better.

I allowed myself to remain in the middle.

Because I thought it was good enough.

I did not want to appear stupid in that class.  So I did my work.  I did not know enough to ask better questions so I could ‘move up’.   And I was forever impressed by those who were aware enough to know what was going on.  I admired that student, and the others along my education path, who weren’t afraid to ask questions.   And didn’t allow people to put them in the middle.

I sat in that middle row for the entire semester.

I didn’t learn until much later that I could fluctuate in and out of the middle depending on my efforts and abilities.

Sometimes I still find myself sitting in that middle seat.

At least I realize now that it’s up to me to remain sitting there.

Or get up and move.

40 thoughts on “Stuck In The Middle

  1. As a teacher I am appalled, but not surprised by what the teacher did to her class. I am sure their were others who likewise still carry the scars of her stupidity. Just because someone gets a teaching certificate it does not make them a teacher. I hope she evolved into a teacher or moved on to another career. I’m sorry she ruined geometry for you. You’ve turned out pretty well without it, so maybe it was meant to be.


    • No one really ruined geometry for me, per se. Even with the work and study I just couldn’t get it. It wasn’t algebra and I was ignorant enough to think since it was next on the “list” it was algebra continued.

      And actually, I remember this teacher’s face because of her smile. Physically there was nothing remarkable or unremarkable about her. But I remember her smile.

      It’s only on reflection that I can see these things as they were. And the other thing I remember vividly is the student who spoke out. I admired that. The student who saw things as they were, understood them, and had the guts to speak up. I admire that student and wish I could remember who it was.


  2. How different we all are. So many in your class having different reactions to being placed in a certain group. Some people find the middle the perfect place to be, others rail against it. Your “teacher” might have known enough to pass her exams but she was no teacher!


    • I see where she appears not so good here. But I’m really drawn to the student who spoke up. Realizing what was happening. And having the courage to address it. I was so oblivious, naive, and ill informed I had to have things like this pointed out to me. I did not learn geometry in that class, that I can say with certainty, so no, she was not a teacher to me.


  3. Years of watching Jeapordy have now taught me to phrase everything in the form of a question. “What is, I don’t understand it?” Obviously I didn’t make it to the smart section. 🙂


  4. While I feel that your teacher was completely in the wrong for doing what she did, I’m glad you’ve learned an important life lesson from experiencing her abuse in the classroom!


    • As sad as this seems Thomas, I don’t think I would have ever picked up on it if the other student hadn’t of said something. Maybe I would have, no way of knowing now. Funny how I can’t remember a thing about geometry…it left no good impression. But that day, those few moments, are well engraved. 🙂


  5. Colleen, I would’ve curled up into a ball and cried.That teacher seemed brutal. Geometry wasn’t my strong suit either. As for sitting in the middle seat, I don’t believe that’s your current position in life. You’re probably running circles around your peers now! 😉


    • Thanks Anka. I didn’t even recognize it until pointed out to me, then I remember feeling awkward …. not even sure how to feel. I was bothered because the others were bothered. And currently….I think I am stuck in the middle in some places in life, but running for sure in others! 🙂


    • Thanks Tess. I do enjoy the writing of things. I am not spectacular at many things, but I try many things. I didn’t stay in the middle as I got older, I move in and out of the middle, top and bottom. I’m all over the place, depending on what I’m doing. 😉


  6. I see you are trying not to focus on what the teacher did (by your response to other’s comments) … and are instead trying to focus on the student who spoke up. That apparently left a mark on you too nod nods.

    So … perhaps you did learn in that geometry class yes?

    But I too will address the teacher. Not her in particular, but teachers in general. Tis my experience, that most teachers really do want their students to do well. They are faced with an enormous task these days. Tests…they seem no longer for the children, but for the teacher. How ‘well’ they teach. Interesting … more responsibility for the teacher…often without giving them the tools to do what they need to. They at times today appear in an impossible situation. (Ok…admits, that was a rant on your blog just now..apologizes. Ack!)

    Nevertheless, in my head, for every ‘bad’ teacher … I would like to believe there are 100 other good ones. *smiles*

    And finally … math. OMG I am a math nerd. Geometry. Theorems, corollary’s, and proofs oh my! *smirkles* … I have a math degree *smiles*


    • I think her thinking of the students the way she did was very “put things in order” for her. It actually was a way of making much more work for herself, which she never complained about or pointed out. But she taught us differently, had different homework assignments for each group, and different questions to ask of us in each class. On reflection I think the work she put in to trying to teach us was admirable, but her method was certainly mind blowing.

      Teachers today, I have respect and sympathy for. I have the blessing of having had spectacular teachers, knowing some personally, and my children having had great teachers. And memories of some not so great ones.

      Much kudos to the teachers who are now expected to do so much more than “teach”. Who do the absolute best they can with the tools they bring in to the classroom just by walking in- I’m with you on this Irish Katie. Great teachers are out there by the (give me a good math term) ton!

      And how’s come I’m not surprised that you are brilliant?


  7. I adore algebra! ❤ Geometry…not so much. This is such a deep story. Can you imagine a teacher doing that in schools to this day? I would like to think I would be someone to speak up. I can't tolerate favoritism or even elitism in classrooms. I love this message 🙂


  8. I don’t understand geometry all that much, my only understanding is that it has to do with planes, lines, and that is about it. The only thing I remember about geometry class was having a bit of a crush on the deaf girl in our class.

    I thought of two things while reading this.

    1. The title made me think of that Stealers Wheels’ song “Stuck In The Middle With You”.

    2. While reading about the teacher dividing the class I kept thinking about the music video for the song “The Audience Is Listening” from Steve Vai (unfortunately, I think Youtube took the video down).


  9. Shame on her. Good on you.

    I am a complete math geek all the way to calculus. If you can stack things or pack things, you learned geometry. The core of what any non-math oriented occupation will ever demand is spatial reasoning. Methinks with your travels you have that down to a science… as it were.


  10. !!! Thanks Red! I can certainly ‘stack and pack’!!!!! 😉 Though maybe not for other grade-able purposes I will now feel like I have mastered geometry because you’re very brief explanation above kind of turned on the light bulb with a ding. I swear, I think I get the concept. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


  11. Colleen, what a wonderful post. I hated any math beyond simple math. I aced that in the 9th grade and did algebra in the 10th. From the moment the teacher said take these 2 negative numbers and multiply them and you get a positive number lost me. I never got the logic, I never made the connection. To this day I remember that teachers name (Mrs. Horn). I was put with the beyond hope part of the class, and I did not pass. Your life experience in geometry gave you one of your life building blocks. It helped to define you at that point, and allowed you to refer back to that point when you needed to redefine yourself. Thank you for sharing this, I truly wish my experience had been more like yours. Take care, Bill


    • I like that Bill, one of life’s building blocks. I’m many years removed from that class, but it has stuck with me. I don’t think my life has suffered any the more for the struggles in geometry, I hope the same for yours! 🙂


  12. This is a really interesting perspective, Colleen. I haven’t really thought about whether or not I’m in the middle very often, but I can see that it’s often a moveable line, and we can redefine our positions. You definitely caught my attention with geometry class. I was a good student, too, and the only time I ever had a tutor was geometry…and I think I passed the class because the teacher felt sorry for me. I was obviously very frustrated. In your classroom scenario I would NOT have been in the middle. 🙂


    • 🙂 In geometry I think I was lucky to be in the middle. I really truly struggled through that entire class.

      In life I find I sometimes put myself in the middle by not striving or working harder. Other times I am underestimated and assumed to be middle level, I know better, and I’m okay with what others think because it doesn’t matter what they think. 😉


  13. Clowns to the left of me and Jokers to the right, here I am stuck in the middle with you. Do you remember that song? That song popped in my head while I was reading your post! I was scared I was going to fall off my chair if I was asked a question or if I wanted to ask a question! The fear about being asked a question or asking a question goes deep within me. They both revolve around appearing and believing that I was stupid. As far as the teacher perhaps she did the best she knew how at that moment. I’ve learned and see that a teacher doesn’t know everything and great teachers learn from their students. We are all teachers and students to one another. That particular day your teacher said that’s not a question, had the opportunity to help her students as well as herself. 🙂


    • I was sing-reading that as I read the post. 🙂

      I have such a fear of appearing stupid. But I think I am coming out of that….with age. And realization that not knowing something does not make one stupid. I wish I had understood that a long time ago.

      I feel bad that I painted such a horrible portrait of the teacher. From here, looking back, I do believe she was doing what she thought was “best”. Obviously as an adult I know better. But she put a lot of work in to teaching us in different ways, on different levels, and adjusting the expectations so that we could meet them, and move “up” as we understood more. I’m hoping that maybe she picked up on that after that experiment with our class.

      I like your statement, we are all teachers and students to one another. It’s so true.


      • I’m with you on the stupid thing and wishing I’d understood a long time ago as well. What’s important is that we are getting understanding now. 🙂 We are setting ourselves free! As far as feeling can ask yourself why you feel bad and perhaps uncover something emotionally within that can be healed like a belief. I understand why you feel bad. I enjoyed reading your post and there was much to receive from you sharing your experience. Yes, I like that statement as well (we are all teachers and students to one another). A very wise person taught me this. 🙂


        • I am pretty sure I feel bad because I relate this one incident, for the sake of the incident it’s self, and it is only one incident in that teacher’s life. Though her intention, I believe, was to help, it really affected many of us differently. Some of us left there feeling ‘labeled’ something that maybe we hadn’t thought of before. I do find it interesting that I had to have it pointed out to me. But once it was pointed out to me, it did indeed make me feel bad.

          I wonder if any of those other students remember that, or does she?


  14. Colleen, I don’t think there is something wrong with being stuck in the middle – I think it’s a great place to be …. it’s not very great to be in the front or in the back.
    That teacher of yours … should be working in a warehouse or somewhere where she couldn’t do anyone any harm.
    We have a word in Swedish – that no other language has = lagom …
    Lagom means just perfect … just to be in the middle … never too little .. never too much.
    I love the word “lagom”.


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