“You Are Going To Fail”

The BBC published a story this morning titled, “Poor exam grades crush young people’s ambition, study says”.

I can relate to this story. Or at least the title; the rest of the story goes in to detail about how problems at home have negative impacts on academic performance. I was quite lucky in that regard; both my parents were hugely supportive of doing well in school. But the emotional impact of not doing well on an exam, I don’t think parents can really help or prepare you for that.

When I was 15-years-old I moved to the US from Canada.  I was put in Algebra 2a and expected to pass it.  On the first day I felt overwhelmed and decided the next morning I would report to the teacher for extra help before class (the school had a policy that every teacher had to be available for 45 minutes before school started for extra tutoring).

When I sat down with the teacher and struggled with the first equation he turned to me and said very matter-of-factly, “you’re going to fail my class”.  That was it. I stopped going for extra help and mentally checked-out.  I was the only student he let sleep in the class.  At the end of the semester I failed his class.

I spoke to the guidance councilor who then put me in the Algebra IIa class for students with learning disabilities, which at the time felt like a smack in the face. It was computer-based (late ’90s, very basic animations, CRT monitors, same hot stuffy classroom though) and the pace was set by the individual student.  The teacher would do a 10-15 minute lesson at the start of class and the rest of the time would be up to the student to fill.  I flourished in this environment and got an A-.

This had two effects:

1) The confidence I lost in my ability to do math was re-instated;

2) I no longer held a stigma about learning disabilities.

But I still resent that teacher (and his horrible mustache)  for not encouraging or pushing me.  He gave up before I did, which was more crushing than failing an exam. Knowing that it wasn’t just me but my teacher as well who had lost hope could have been detrimental to my learning.  I consider myself lucky to have been at a school where the rest of the faculty were ace teachers wholly committed to teaching students who wanted to learn. I wonder how many students fall through this crack.


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