I would come home from school and see the chalkboard propped up on my bed. Neatly written, there would be four rows of math problems to solve.
It was the basics of addition and subtraction. She knew I was struggling in this area, so she would sit down and go over my work from school during the day, where she saw that I was not grasping a concept and would write it out.
I actually did not appreciate it, but there was a method behind her madness. While she was trying to help me, I only saw it as more work to do. The first time she did this, she was not so sure I would fill in all the answers. It was a wild card moment because she knew I had this inward drive to do what she said, but there had also been times when I would try to put her on ignore. If even for just a few seconds.
“You got all of these right,” she said later after she checked them. Her tactic of using praise was another way for me to be swayed into continuing with her plan.
This started in the lower grades, and she kept it going. It wasn’t every day, only when she noticed that some of my homework had errors. It increased when I was subjected to a new teacher in second grade. I could not learn from him, and she recognized this.
“You have never had a problem with reading and writing; what is happening?”
They had us rotate to another classroom for other subjects at the school I was in. He was not my permanently assigned instructor. I spent an hour being taught by him about verbs, subjects, and the basics of reading. I usually had no difficulty, but I began to disassociate mentally.
“You have a personality clash with him,” she said.
I had no idea what this meant. All I knew was that he targeted me with unkind remarks, then expected me to treat him with respect. This was confusing and made me withdraw as a way to protect myself. When he spoke, I would become afraid he would run me down. It would happen out of the blue, so I became on high alert to prepare myself.
Because of the mental torment, this shut off my ability to learn.
The way public school worked back then was if you were not scoring the greatest, it was overlooked until it got so bad that it was clear that concepts weren’t being understood. You could move along at a subpar level and not fully comprehend ideas built on one another.
She knew this, so she took it upon herself to make sure I wouldn’t get too far off course. Math challenged me, but literacy and reading had never been a problem.
She spoke to this instructor directly. Of course, he was on his best behavior with her on the phone as she was challenging him and looking into why I was not performing well. I was so young I couldn’t articulate what was occurring to me. He felt threatened, I think, and started to leave me alone. There was some inclination that his treatment of me in his classroom was beginning to go too far, so he retreated.
“Chris, you and I will work on this at home. He’s not getting through to you somehow.”
She still wrote out math problems on the board, and every day she worked with me on the other subject.
Because of her tenacity, I got through that grade and on to the next. Amazingly, this is where my ability to write became pronounced. Being aware on some level that God had given me a gift, she was not about to let him steal it away from me.
I had to face him again in sixth grade for math. (See Problem Solved listed below)
One of the phrases that she said repeatedly was,
“It’s not the problem. It’s how you solve it.”
The first time she said this to me, I shook my head at her. It was like she wasn’t listening to what I was trying to tell her. I knew that girls at school were shoplifting, and they wanted me to do it with them.
I kept declining the offer because I knew it was wrong. Day after day, they would talk of what they had stolen after school and how fun it was. When I refused to go along with them, they turned on me. This was the beginning of my awakening that I needed to cut off certain members of society for my good.
When I finally told her the pressure I was under, her response was,
“Chris, it’s not the problem. It’s how you solve it.”
And that was it. No matter what I would bring to her, that would be her answer. I would go over all the details of the injustice or who said what or was acting like a fool. She would look at me and throw out that answer for everything.
“You ALWAYS say this to me!” I said back to her more than once.
“Because it’s the only answer. You already have the problem, so now you have to focus on responding to it. Are you going to keep going over the issue a million times, or are you going to deal with it and move on?”
I didn’t understand her point then, but I do now. The energy one expends on continually bashing against the wall of what was said or done could be channeled toward getting on with your life. She told me that to stop the situation from mushrooming, I had to see the solution, and you can’t do that if you are emotionally stuck in the situation.
Not everyone will like you or get along with you. What I surprise, I know.
Some people will use you and not give it a second thought. They will deceive you. There will be words and actions taken against you that will not be pleasant, and that is a fact. That was not a concept I easily accepted as a child and sometimes as an adult. She was trying to tell me then not to let it devastate my world.
In Matthew 10:14 it says,
Any city or home that doesn’t welcome you—shake off the dust of that place from your feet as you leave. (TLB)
Nowhere does that say to linger.
God had a higher calling on my life, and He does for everyone. When something comes along to disrupt that, this is when you decide to move past it or hang on to it. You get that choice.
I had heard on so many occasions that if you genuinely have forgiven someone of their trespasses against you, you will continually be in their presence. Not true. I have had God physically separate me from what wasn’t working. It might have appeared that I was shutting people out of my life, but I was prompted to move ahead and leave the toxic part behind. The dead end will not lead you anywhere, and while you are expending your thoughts on it, you are missing out on what is valuable.
You are trading your time for something that will not bring you to go where God wants you to.
In Matthew 8:21, Jesus addressed this concept when he said,
First things first. Your business is life, not death. Follow me. Pursue life. (Message)
Not one time did He sweat it out over what people said about Him or their actions toward Him. And that is a great example to follow. Not always easy because of the pain that gets inflicted. How can you be healed if you are so focused on what caused the wound in the first place?
It’s not about stuffing down your feelings or pretending all is well and slapping on a smile. Been there, always done that. That doesn’t work either. So what is your option? Give it to God. There is a promise in Psalm 147: 3-12,
He is the healer of the brokenhearted. He is the one who bandages their wounds. He determines the number of stars. He gives each one a name. Our Lord is great, and his power is great. There is no limit to his understanding. The LORD gives relief to those who are oppressed. (Message)
The one thing that I have come to understand from her simple response is that the work was to be done by me. It wasn’t up to the other party to take responsibility for their actions. To wait around for that or to expect that would have amounted to absolutely nothing. I had to take what had been presented and transmute it into something that no longer harmed me. That has to happen at a spiritual level, not an exterior one. Until you drop the “I am right” fight that can go on mentally for years and years, your peace won’t manifest itself.
I thought that the worst class I ever had to take was geometry. It was an exhausting study for one who just wanted to read a book and not think about numbers. All the steps involved to get from point A to Z were laborious. There were theorems and proofs to work through regarding shapes and how they related to one another. The concepts started slow but then built over the course.
One of the most straightforward ideas to understand was intersecting lines. This is where two lines meet and share a common point.
We will have to deal with this for the rest of our time here. There will be no way around it. The commonality of it is that God is in the middle of it. As two cross paths, for whatever reason, good or not so great, there will be something learned from it.
As we go on, we will be better at discerning, returning to peace more quickly, able to help those who we are supposed to who are having a rough time and waste less of ours on things that have no eternal meaning. This all opens the way to fulfill your true purpose.
Each time you decide not to let a person or concern roll you and take you down, your insight becomes sharper, more accurate, with fewer errors, and precisely calculated.
Posted on by Christine
Please don’t call on me. Please don’t call on me. This was my daily mantra during his math class in sixth grade. I had a history with this man and had hoped to never be his student again.
Previously I was in one of his classes in second grade, and I had gone from being an avid reader with great pronunciation skills to not being able to comprehend sentences. I began to bring home extra work to do with my mom to improve my understanding. She noticed that I was not struggling as she and I worked together. After a couple of these sessions, she said to me,
“I don’t think you like your teacher.”
“No. I don’t.”
My seven-year-old mind could not articulate clearly why I did not like him. I just knew I didn’t. In hindsight, it was my first experience with being intimidated, but I didn’t understand it. It wasn’t that he was a male teacher as much as his attitude. I recall seeing him flirt with the young female teacher across the hall, and in an instant, his demeanor would become harsh with the children in his room. He was unpredictable, and I never knew when I would meet his approval or not. He put me on edge, and I always felt his anger simmering below the surface. To add to my fear, he towered over me. One of my brothers was just as tall, but it was the way this man glared at me from above that made me cower.
During our one on one reading sessions, he would often laugh and ridicule those who were not pronouncing words correctly. He would use another student to ‘correct’ the one who was making a fool of himself. It was a form of public humiliation amongst the peers. Not being able to take the pressure, I shut myself down, and with that my favorite subject became my most difficult. My voice, which once was strong, became small and weak with the idea that he was going to lash out and make me feel horrible about myself. The best part of my day was when our hour of reading with him was over, and I returned to my homeroom next door.
When second grade ended, I wasn’t only glad to welcome in the freedom of summer but to be away from him forever. Forever lasted until the sixth grade. He picked up right where we had left off. This time, he was my math instructor which wasn’t my best subject. His eyes would scan the room looking for his prey to call up to the board. Hands across the room would fly up, but I always put my hands under my desk to be sure there was no mistaking my desire to stay seated. Regardless, he would pick me. I never got used to being in front of the entire class sweating over the board trying to appease him only to be interrupted. I would just begin to write and he would snap.
“No! That’s already wrong. Go sit down.” I would quietly put the chalk back in its place while he would then call upon his star math student who would go up and show us all how it was to be done.
“Now, that is perfect,” he would say shooting me a satisfied sadistic smile.
The worst part was the homework. He would hand out our assignment and expect it back by the end of the day. For a person who caught on to numbers quickly, this would have been easy. But, I had such a mental block, partially due to him making me feel stupid, I needed the extra time in the evenings to complete the work. If a student didn’t turn in the homework of the day, then she was expected to ask him permission to take it home and turn it in the next morning. Every day I made the short but long walk to his door to ask if I could have an extension. It was a ritual short of bowing and kissing a ring on his hand. Some afternoons when he was preoccupied with impressing some of his young female students, I would get a head nod followed by a grunt. Other times, he would torture me with tormenting questions.
“Can I take my math work home tonight?” I would squeak.
“Again? Why can’t you get it done during the day like everyone else?” He knew full well I needed the extra time. After making me feel like an absolute idiot, I would finally get the approval to take my work home.
One day, as I walked slowly down the hall, I noticed him standing in his classroom doorway facing his students. He was quiet and so was the entire class. Looking back now, I should have known to just turn around and forget it, but I didn’t realize what I was walking into. As I neared him, he began to yell at the top of his lungs.
“I told you all to shut up, and I mean it! I don’t want to hear another word until the bell rings!” His voice echoed off the walls around me. Sensing I was behind him, he whirled around. Screaming in my face he said,
“WHAT DO YOU WANT?” Spit flew from his mouth and his eyes were crazy looking.
“I need to take my math home….” I think I actually whispered my request.
“I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU DO!”
He spun on his heel and slammed the door so hard that the floor beneath my feet shook. I ran back to my class. When I came in the door, my teacher asked,
“Are you okay, Christine?”
I kept my head down and nodded. He looked at me for a while like he wasn’t so convinced. I don’t know how he hadn’t heard the commotion out in the hallway, but I was so paralyzed with fear I could not speak.
I left elementary school and went on to middle school, high school, and college bearing the unseen scars that he inflicted. I was amazed by the other kids who could whip out math answers while I struggled over each and every problem. I had a teacher tell my mom at a conference that he felt sorry for me because he could see that I really wanted to comprehend the material but it just didn’t stick. Something was blocking my ability to get to the right answer. When she told me this I must have been touched by it because on the next test I whizzed through it. By the end of that year, I had gotten a low B in his class.
The damage wasn’t just confined to school. If I was with a group of people playing a game where a score needed to be tallied, and I was questioned on my accuracy, I would immediately say,
“I am bad at math.” I was merely verbalizing the thought I was having twenty-four seven.
Usually, I hadn’t made an error, but due to early childhood programming by a bully math teacher, I constantly defaulted to what I thought was true. If the person in my social circle was somewhat aggressive, I found myself thinking for certain I was at fault and he or she was right. I was continuing to exist as a sixth-grade math student.
The pattern of living this way began to dissolve when I decided to home school my daughter. I knew that I was going to excel with instructing her on reading, writing, spelling, and basic math, but there was the nagging question of whether I had what it took to effectively teach math at the sixth-grade level or higher. The summer before she was to begin that grade, a packet came in the mail that included a math placement test. Before I gave the exam to her, I took it. I was shocked to see that I scored rather high. Calculations that would have been confusing made absolute sense. How had I become one of those kids that I had envied so much?
That is when I realized how my thinking was not correct on this matter. There were other hints along the way, but I had brushed them off quickly because after all, “I was bad at math.”
When I began home school, I purposefully bought a math curriculum that used a hands-on approach to teaching not only basics but also some geometric and algebraic principles. As I showed her the logic to solving equations, I began to understand that I had not been taught properly. I was slowly beginning to see that I was not the stupid idiot I thought I was. I actually had not been given good instructions nor was I treated like I should have been.
This made me begin to question what other lies I was believing about myself that were not true, and I made a determination to begin an ‘uncovering’ process to free myself from deceptive thinking. This meant asking God to reveal whatever wasn’t right so I could correct it. After all, it is promised that ‘all crooked paths will be made straight.’ I am realizing that this is an ongoing process.
This man was in my life more than 36 years ago. And all these years later I can conjure up his face, his words, and his demeanor. The difference, however, is that I no longer believe him. I have put a loving arm around my sixth-grade self, and I have told her,
“You are good at math. Problem solved.”