In high school I took a geometry class. 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 into the semester when our teacher surprised us one day as we filed in and sat down. She had us 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. The middle row, from front of the class to the back of the class, the dividing row, remained empty. She sat me and about four other students in the remaining empty row. I sat in the middle of the middle row.
She didn’t explain anything about why she moved us. And she went about her lessons.
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 had asked that. Two, that that is exactly what it appeared 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 into different ‘sections’ because of the obvious struggles the class was experiencing. 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 and being ‘smart’.
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.