I have never considered myself intelligent to say the least but getting a D in Honors Geometry practically broke apart my academic self esteem. Granted, the entire semester of Honors Geometry wasn’t the best time in my life as I had the academic gods plus marching band stacked against my freshman brain.
Both my father and I were scared shitless (I kid you not) over having the same thing happen to me in another Honors math class. So, without much hesitation, I willingly signed up for academic knowing that even if the class isn’t interesting, at least the people will be.
I ended up getting the class after lunch; so anticipated academics with some stoned upperclassman and nearly exploded with excitement. The worst they could do was make the class interesting.
“The point of me being here is to make sure everyone passes. In the end, that’s the goal right guys? I know there’s a few seniors in here and I don’t want my class to be the class that determines whether or not anyone graduates…” the teacher began nonchalantly on the first day.
This mindset seemed so shocking after having A’s and B’s highly stressed in Honors classes and getting anything lower than that golden 85(B) screamed failure.
Stay collected Haley—don’t act arrogant if you think this stuff is a joke. Just complete the assignments and move on. This can be your slack class if you wish but remember; fourth period Chem is going to make your brain explode if you have to resuscitate it so please try to challenge yourself in some shape or form. Remember what being on the opposite side of the spectrum was like. Be the peer you wish you had in that hell hole of a class. Zoning out is fine as long as you understand what’s going on in the material. Is the guy next to you…high? Haha.
I felt like a pariah with an unfair advantage in the class for the first week or so. The concepts seemed easy; practically the same as Algebra I just explained a lot more but I watched my peers struggle. It didn’t feel right to know that here I was; eyeing the band practice field wondering how the hell grass continues to grow after we march the life out of it year after year for five months. Whereas a girl one row over was so focused on the material that seemed to take forever to click.
About three weeks after the class started, I finally decided how I wanted to word my emotions after a brief conversation with a friend I made before a test. She was telling me how this was her most difficult class and she wished she was smart like me. I couldn’t focus on the test as I was too busy trying to piece together my class observations and our conversation;
“Is school ever an equal playing field? How is intelligence measured? How can schools use a “generic” aptitude for intelligence when everyone has their own degrees of skill? Are some just luckier than others for having school tested strengths and others more unlucky for being gifted in non-academic traits?
As I tried on concentrating on the test, I had that moment after a thunderstorm feeling echoing in my mind as a smile crept through my thoughts. Being the so called “smart” student in a class of academically based students is extremely rewarding. I’m fortunate as I have the generic/basic student traits teachers like but I’m also so concentrated on those around me that they become part of the curriculum to me. I’ve always loved helping others and I know how frustrating it can be to try so hard at something while not meeting the standards. And I want to ensure everyone in that position around me gets the help that they need. It sucks to feel not good enough.
Sure, I breezed through the test with minimum studying and a minute amount of using situational/resource problem solving to figure out a problem I forgot how to do, but my classmates are teaching me something not on the test nor in the curriculum. They’re teaching me the sort of thing that one can learn through marching, but without the sweat and in a classroom setting. They’re making me think beyond the classroom walls and into an area I’ve never really considered.
My parents raised me with the core belief of always trying your best and that’s good enough for them so effort is engrained in my mind. When I see them try so hard, it gives me an outside perspective to someone I was and someone I still am. And I can’t resist the urge to help any way I can.
During lunch, I saw someone struggling from my class. The teacher was busy and I was bored as hell so I offered her help. We worked through about four problems before the teacher noticed and thanked me—I just tried reassuring her that it’s nothing; it truly wasn’t. The feeling of giving back was gratifying.”
From that moment on, I began looking forward to Algebra II daily. I felt like my peers began accepting me beyond the whole “My name is Haley. I get 96s on tests I don’t study for. I feel like I learned this stuff in 8th grade Algebra I.” mantra that ran through my mind. As my peers opened up to me, I came to the consensus of how cold and unfriendly most people in Honors classes tend to come off. Here, people were genuinely interested in forming friendships with each other and helping one another while not basing a person off their grades…it was beautiful to say the least.
The moment the girl next to me offered me a piece of chewing gum right after spring break, I ran my tongue over my fresh wisdom teeth removal stitches, and used my best judgment to tear off a small piece as a smile crept over her face. From that point on, I felt like accepted as an equal (by my peers) in the class. Between her opening up about her teenage girl problems I’ve completely avoided, my sarcastic remarks that seemed to make her laugh for days (“There’s nothing better to do in [our city] other than to frolic around like rabbits” was her favorite), and trying to help her drill the material into her head; the class began to feel like being surrounded by friends rather than icy glares of kids who will do anything for an A and get completely pissed when anyone makes the slightest distraction.
My all-honors-core friends laughed as I told them about the class; like how the guy behind me would constantly go “You a smart white nigga. Nigga, you smart.” or about the conversation I had with the same guy once which resulted in him announcing, “I wanna travel the world to see which country has the best weed. What’s dat called? A documentary? I wanna film one. Livin’ young and wild and freee!” That guy was a character who took pride in his job at Wendys and getting that occasional 88 he’d express desire for…he didn’t seem to care about academics as much as he did about being who he was; a loud, hysterical kid who didn’t mind talking to the teacher about life outside of school nor occasionally skipping class. I feel like we all could learn a little from him; to take life less seriously occasionally and have a good laugh about stuff ranging from a misinterpreted math teacher after telling a mostly HS Junior filled class that she had a rough night in bed to laughing at your own stupid mistakes.
I believe my Academic Algebra II class made me a better person in a sense since I quickly redefined my role as a student the moment “Haley, be quiet if you’re done with your work” was replaced with “Haley, please find someone to help if you’re finished.” My peers felt more like a community pushing themselves to become more educated rather than a bunch of somewhat cocky Honors kids skating through the curriculum without meeting their peers. And trust me, I have proof of this; ask almost any student enrolled in an Honors Class for the name of three of their peers they seldomly talk to and watch them struggle. Ask any Academic Class kid for the name of five of their peers they rarely talk to and they can probably roll the class roster off the tip of their tongue like it’s no big deal.
Academic Algebra II gave me a sense of community to thrive off while opening my eyes to the notion of what I have as standards is dramatically different than what others may have. Life is never an equal playing field but walking out of that class every day just made realize how much of an impact I can have on my peers and how they can do the same to me. Another drastic difference I realized between Honors vs. Academic is how our teacher seemed to genuinely care about the overall wellbeing of our class. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve had Honors teachers that I can still turn to, but our academic teacher seemed to embrace the class as a whole and ride them a bit more over grades—seemed less harsh and more accepting. I didn’t realize this until about the week after Mendy passed away when I finally told her why I moped around a bit in class the week prior during a MAW meeting. And this continued to strike me even more as she’d often remind me about how proud she was over how much we made at our MAW garage sale either in the beginning or end of class.
One of the most useful things I’m walking away from Academic Algebra II is how to properly throw a tampon half way across the room without the teacher intercepting it; a skill my class gradually began to master even when drawing attention through hysterical laughter by all the males in the room. Luckily our teacher never caught us (the females) tampon-handed as that would’ve been more awkward than her “Happy Hump Day” story.
I strongly believe that everyone should take an academic core class after this experience. It was not only one of the most gratifying experiences of sophomore year but also one where I can honestly say I’m proud of the person I became through the midst of it all.
Thank you Ms. S and 3rd period, second semester Academic Algebra II peers.