To you, bitter tenured math teacher at the local public middle school.
Nora’s mother says you tend to take a while to respond to emails. I trust you’ll have the time to read what I have to say, then.
I don’t think I can blame you if you don’t remember what it’s like to be a kid. I definitely can’t blame you if you don’t remember what it’s like to be a girl in seventh grade. As a recent high-school graduate, I only remembered what seventh grade was like when I was hired as your student Nora’s math tutor. I think what jogged my memory was how unwilling Nora was to try and tackle the material. Nora isn’t a disagreeable kid, either; I’ve babysat her countless weeknights over the past few years. I’ve done homework with Nora before. I’m told that Nora has A’s in all of the rest of her classes, and a 67 percent in math.
Being a girl in seventh grade is not easy.
It’s not the first introduction of puberty, no; it’s just where it starts to get worse. Among all of the things that have changed for you and your female classmates, the girls haven’t quite grown out of being really, really mean. Middle school is way harder than elementary school; the absurd dress code means you’ll never dress comfortably when the temperature is above 60F, you’re confused and moody and lonely and somehow, still, you still feel like you’re going through this all alone. And don’t even get me started on seventh grade boys.
You demand your photocopied homework problems to be answered, step by painstakingly tedious step, on a separate sheet of lined paper. When checking homework, if you don’t write your name on the paper, you get a zero. If you don’t show all of your work, you get a zero. If you write in pen, you get a zero.
Nora is a tall, lanky girl. Taller than my last ex-boyfriend with an eight year age gap, she stands at about 5’8’’. The middle school dress code does not allow shorts or skirts that are five inches above the knee.
Let me remind you: Nora is a tall, lanky girl.
Nora spent her entire math class in the main office crying, waiting for her mother to bring her a pair of jeans. She wore a skater skirt to school that day, with bike shorts underneath. This is when I remembered my experience with the dress code in seventh grade: when I was in seventh grade, I was 4’11’’. My best friend was more than half a foot taller than me, and would have gotten sent to the office had she borrowed some of my shorts and worn them to school because of her height.
As sad as I was that nothing had changed in the years since I’d left that middle school, I wanted to outsmart you, her evil math teacher, the reason why she was afraid to talk to her father about school. I worked with Nora for a minimum of two hours a week, making flashcards, color-coding quadrilateral prisms, writing down step after painstakingly tedious step in straight, neat handwriting.
Nora knew the material. Every week I’d come back and she’d still be failing. I tried to get her mother to stop paying me.
Nora’s grandparents moved into her room this year, so her parents could keep an eye on them as their Alzheimer’s worsened. She shared a room with her (very) little sister while her grandparents milled around the house, oblivious to how their comments towards Nora might distract her. As Nora’s final in your class approached, she made more and more mistakes. She was acing the homeworks, and flunking every test, overcome with anxiety.
She’s just a seventh grade girl. She’s not an old woman, with tenure, who has known about variables for so long that they seem like second nature. Nora is just a girl, and being twelve is the hardest thing she’s experienced in her life. You, seasoned teacher, have the obligation to be able to tell the difference between a student who is trying the best they can and a student who really just doesn’t care.
Thanks for triggering the unveiling all of those repressed memories from the worst years of my life. Now I recommend that you retire.