Thursday, May 17, 2012

Fourth Grade Failure

Mamakat's prompt:  Share a story from fourth grade.

I had a great teacher in 4th grade. Mrs Gill. I loved her, with that intense affection that kids develop for teachers.  She never yelled, and every day after lunch she would read aloud to us from a chapter book.  The names of the books escaped me, but there was at least one character named Caleb. 

One day, Mrs. Gill told me in so many words that I was special. Because I was so special, I would be in a special math group. An advanced math group.  I was so excited!  I was never too keen on math,  and I had only just memorized my times tables, but if Mrs. Gill thought that I could do!  I basked in the warm sunlight of her confidence.

Initially, I tried very hard, because I wanted to be worthy of my teacher's regard.  I paid attention when Mrs. Gill spoke to the group. I even took notes...except that she seemed to speak very quickly, and never seemed to be able to answer any questions about the concepts. She just gave us worksheets and sent us into the corner to work. I also noticed that this special group seemed to be assigned twice as many problems than the other kids.  Most of the kids in the advanced group seemed to finish the entire page very quickly, while I...dawdled, and doodled.  Oh, did I doodle! Math was insanely boring, plain and simple.  Even at that age, I could see no good reason in completing an entire page of the same type of problem, when completing half demonstrated that I knew what to do.  And why the hurry to finish?  There were no mysteries of the universe to be solved in multiplying 6 by 7, therefore there was no rush.  Now, of course, I know that the whole point was math fluency, but it made no sense in fourth grade, and Mrs. Gill never explained that to me.

Mrs. Gill was very upset by the end of my third week in the advanced program.   She pulled me aside again.  I would no longer be part of the advanced group, but would have to sit with the not-advanced group.  At the end of Mrs. Gill's 'talk', this is what I knew:  I was too stupid to understand math.  I was a failure because I couldn't complete entire pages of equations like I was supposed to.   Mrs. Gill's disgust was a kick where it hurt.  I may have cried. Where I had been confident, I became hesitant.  Where I had been comfortable, I now withdrew.  My interest in pleasing Mrs. Gill waned considerably. Why bother, when any attempt to complete a task might mean another failure?  

Since that year, I've struggled with math, barely passing those classes. That day, when I learned that I was a failure at math, left me with feelings of inadequacy that have never gone away.  And why is that?  

Because she made me feel like a failure.  I hate her for that.


  1. I remember feeling like we we were sort of big kids in fourth grade, the tachers didn't baby us anymore (it was a whole new part of the building where i went to school, so a change had truly come)...and then when my own kids went to fourth grade, they were just these little kids still. How truly crappy to me treated that way, and such a reminder to us of what "sticks" with kids.

    1. You just never know what a kid will take away from an encounter with an adult. That experience has made me more careful about what I say to the children I work with.

  2. Teachers don't really know how they could impact their students as much as parents do. I had a teacher in 5th grade who put me down. It did take me years to get over it. I hope you get over your feelings of inadequacy. I know you can do it.

  3. Sounds like teaching was not Mrs. Gill's gift. What a shame. I had a handful of teachers like that myself.

  4. Sounds like she needs a swift kick in the clutch. I remember feeling like a huge loser because my little construction paper race car that moved when we mastered a times table stalled more often than most. Oh, the things we remember!

  5. Oh, this makes me so sad. I had a teacher like Mrs. Gill, too, and I struggled with 'math inadequacy' for years because of her. I'm so sorry!

  6. Oh no! Heartbreaking. It's truly amazing how an adult, an individual can have such an impact on a child. Everyone is not fantastic at everything and that's what makes the world turn.

    I've known so many bad teachers for myself and my children, and I could rip the heads off of those that had that affect on my kids!

  7. How heartbreaking that she made you feel like that. What an awful teacher!

  8. I'm so sorry that happened to you:( No kid should be told what group they're in...I know my students can figure it out, but when groups change often, no one can really tell.


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