The room was brightly lit and worry washed over me as I stared at the math test. I could hear two things: pencils writing and popcorn popping.
My teacher announced that he needed to step out of the room grab an item for our movie.
After the door closed, a boy in my class stood up and started reading the answers to his math test out loud. Quickly I wrote down the answers as I hadn’t studied that week. I just wanted popcorn!
My teacher propped the door open and talked loudly to another adult in the hallway as he crept into the class.
Heat rose into my cheeks. I was a cheater.
My self inflicted wound
Many times during my elementary and early middle school years, cheating was a normal occurrence. It was easier than remembering to do my own school work. The first time I cheated was in third grade with a friend of mine. Our belief was that collectively, we were smarter together than separately. There’s strength in numbers, right?
I cheated off and on until seventh grade when I entered junior high school. No longer could I steal a look at a friend’s test answers. We were using computers to test into our next level of math and I had nowhere to hide.
The placement test came and went. As summer ended, we received my schedule in the mail. I was being placed in Math 7 (remedial math).
As I called my friends, I heard many of them being placed in pre-algebra or algebra 1 classes. My heart pounded in my ears as I fiddled with the phone cord in my hands, It was hard to admit my math placement.
Well meaning friends told me to challenge the placement. But I couldn’t, because I knew…
I was bad at math.
The feeling that held me back
Shame set in, but I avoided the topic with my friends. It hurt too much. I said nothing to my mother about the placement but accepted it as a punishment. I didn’t deserve to be anywhere else. Questions about myself echoed in my head:
- What will my peers think?
- How could I have let things go this far?
- Why am I so stupid?
I was hurt and no one could see it.
Before I even put more effort into myself, I believed there was little I could do about it. I was math challenged and that’s all there was to it. Math was for smart people like my friends, but not me.
Walking into Mr. King’s room was dreadful. I played cool as I slunk into the very last row of seats in his room. I zoned out and chatted with boys that were known math cheaters just like me.
Mr. King wore a plain button up shirt most days and slicked his thinning hair back. His eyes were kind and I could tell he genuinely loved math. One day, he stopped suddenly and walked closer towards me.
“Would you please come sit up here?”
He was gesturing to the desk in the very front of the room. My cheeks flushed and I gathered my things to walk up front. I was sure he was tired of me sitting with those boys and chatting.
At the end of class he asked me to sit up front for the rest of the year. His request stung a little.
“Great, he thinks I am stupid.”
Sitting up in the front was hard. There was no escaping Mr. King and his kindness. He was a good teacher. I could tell he cared about us understanding math. My attitude towards class softened. I started taking notes and my grades slowly improved without cheating.
Mr. King’s confidence in me wasn’t filled with hollow praises, but by his actions. He saw me. After years of feeling invisible to my teachers he noticed I needed something different. He didn’t belittle or embarrass me, but rather asked for a simple request to come closer.
His smile encouraged me. He bent down to be eye level when helping me work on a problem.
I like to think of Mr. King as my first responder to my self-inflicted academic wound.
During his class, I was able to have success in math because of his diligence with me.
I went from wounded to healed. It took a lot of self-compassion for mistakes I had made coupled with talented teachers who cared enough to see me and take action.
My story is an example of academic wounding, a preconceived myth of failure. My wound lied in my own mind.
This wound healed over time, but the shame bubbled up from time to time when I was feeling vulnerable again in a higher level math class. But each time those feelings came, I felt inspired by the other teachers in my life and I asked for help.
The feeling that moved me forward
What I needed in those formative years was validation. I needed to know that I had a brain built for math. I’m thankful for the support I did have through my math and science teachers. We had rapport and they helped me to have successful math experiences. Two key ingredients to healing.
My hope in sharing this experience is that more wounded students will know they are not alone. They are not broken or need to have something repaired inside of them. When given the right support, they’ll thrive.
If you’d like help building a support group around your child, email me. I’m happy to help you find a path to healing. And I promise, it doesn’t involve cheating–but I can bring the popcorn.
We offer a variety of great services that are all done online. You can learn all about our services here: madeformath.com