When a Good Student becomes a Bad Student

How many of you remember your high school algebra class?

Yep, quite a show of hands there.

Now, how many of you enjoyed that class?

Where did everyone go?  Oh, wait, I see someone way in the back of the room with a hand up.  You must be the guy who became a number-cruncher for the Federal Government.

As for me, I had always been a straight-A student; in fact, I nearly finished high school in the top 10 (I was #11, grr).  Never did I have a problem with any math class, not even in elementary school when, for whatever reason, my teacher enrolled me in an experimental class for the “new (Base 10)” math.

Algebra was a whole ‘nother story.

A little background:  Back then, grades were A to F, with F meaning failed.  The quarterly tests were based on a 100-point scale, with 65 meaning passed (but just barely), and 64 meaning failed.

The lowest grade I had ever received in any academic class was a B+, and I beat myself up over that one.  (Note, I said “academic” – we also got graded for gym, and I’ll never admit what my sorry grade was for that.)

There were two math teachers, and the one I was assigned to for algebra could not teach.  She was very smart and knew her subject, but at least in my case, she could not relay it in any manner I could understand.  Despite that, I got the basics well enough to squeak by with an 85 on the first quarterly test.


The second quarter, it became apparent to me that I didn’t have a clue what was going on in that class.  No matter how  hard I tried, I could not understand what the teacher was saying.  Perhaps she wasn’t really speaking English?  No, she was born and raised in the good old USA, same as me.  And what were all those chicken scratches up there on the blackboard?

It didn’t help that this particular teacher had absolutely no patience for stupid students  (’nuff said).

My test score for the second quarter was 64.

This was a Regents course – the final grade at the end of the year would count toward my ability to qualify for college.  Did I mention that I had never, ever failed a test in my life?

My mother looked at the report card and asked what happened.  I told her I couldn’t understand the work but would try harder.  She let it slide because she knew I was a good student – and she knew I wasn’t being distracted by outside stuff like boyfriends (there were none, they weren’t interested in “good” girls), drugs (I didn’t even smoke cigarettes), or too much socializing (I had one friend, and she went to a different school).

In the Fog

By the time the third quarter testing rolled around, I was scared – and desperate.  Never in my life had I cheated on an exam, but I did this time.  The desks were close enough that I could see the answers being written by the boy sitting next to me – and I copied those answers.  Apparently, he was as clueless as I was.  I got a 63 on that test.

My mom was such a good woman, and had such faith in her children.  When I admitted my failure and asked for help, she drove me to the nearest bookstore to buy a Regents Algebra review book.  For the next few weeks, I immersed myself in that book – and I taught myself the entire course.  OMG, now it actually made sense!

For the final exam – the actual Regents exam, the one which counted toward college – I scored a 98!

The teacher was flabbergasted.  How could I go from a 63 to a 98 in just a few short weeks?  She accused me of cheating on the final exam.

Fortunately, when all was said and done, the school authorities accepted my tale of woe and how I had to teach algebra to myself because the teacher was incompetent.  They let the 98 stand.  For all I know, maybe I wasn’t the only good kid who failed with that teacher.

The next year was Trigonometry and Statistics, both of which I passed but neither of which I enjoyed – although the Statistics teacher did try to make Probabilities fun.

My final high school year, I had had enough.  I switched to business classes instead of college-entrance courses.  I did so well with the bookkeeping course that I went home and took over some of the bookkeeping for my father’s small home business.  As a plus, I discovered that the students in the business classes were so much more fun to be around than the brainiacs in the college courses.

The decision served me well.  I would have hated college even more than I hated high school, and the business courses got me a good start in life.

Math is a fact of life.  Perhaps whoever did this parking lot should have paid a little more attention in school (or had one less beer before drawing the lines):

Happy Friday, everyone.  Don’t let the numbers get you down.


I love to hear from my readers. You may comment on this post, comment on my Facebook or Twitter pages, or email me at cordeliasmom2012@yahoo.com
Images by Cordelia’s Mom/TeddyRosalieStudio


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34 Responses to When a Good Student becomes a Bad Student

  1. markbialczak says:

    Great independent study, CM. That’s a sad tale, the authorities not catching on that they were putting the students in such a perilous place with a truly lousy teacher.
    As for math. Nope. Not my thing, either. Try as I might, I got lost when it came to the ‘word problems’ portion of alegebra, and stayed in the weeds thereafter. Good thing I liked and prospered in the English/Social Studies direction.


  2. Tippy Gnu says:

    I think it was your teacher, not you. I had a similar experience in high school. I did well at basic math, and I even did well in my first algebra class. But later, for some damn reason, I had to take algebra again. My new teacher was so difficult to understand, I was lost and had to drop out of his class. But I was allowed to take the algebra textbook home and study it on my own time. When I did that I figured it out, and I rejoined the class. But again, I had trouble understanding the teacher and ended up dropping out again.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Dan Antion says:

    It takes a good teacher to make complex subjects easy to understand – there aren’t may good teachers, or at least there weren’t when we were in school. The important thing is you learned the subject well enough to score a 98 – that’s remarkable and must have made you feel good.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. beth says:

    math was the bane of my existence. for some reason, algebra kind of made sense to me but geometry left me cold.


  5. Marc Beebe says:

    Um … I helped teach my high school algebra class. Sorry.
    Unlike most people, I’ve used algebra a lot in my life. The average human being uses it occasionally, and without realizing it.
    I have seen math teachers utterly fail at explaining what it is for, possibly because they didn’t know either. (I’ve encountered bad teachers in every subject, and they seem to be proliferating.)
    Despite this, I do not think algebra is a vital aspect of education.


    • I’m not sorry I learned algebra. Perhaps it’s a subject that needs to be learned individually in order to understand it. These days, the schools use calculators in math class, so I don’t know if today’s students are actually learning anything other than how to push buttons.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Carol says:

    Oh yeah, I remember my algebra class, and not fondly. Like you, it made no sense to me, and I saw no reason to have it in my life. I squeaked though, resenting that stain on my otherwise honor club grades.


  7. simplywendi says:

    I LOVE that you were able to teach yourself!


  8. I didn’t learn any math in school, but I sure learned a whole lot of it after I got out. it turns out, when you know WHY you are doing it, it makes a lot more sense than it did as completely abstract in school. I had NO idea what the point of trigonometry was. Then I read Horatio Hornblower and discovered it was used in navigation to calculate the curve of the earth. How come no one told me that in trig class?

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Trent Lewin says:

    It’s a good story, especially the cheating bit. I wonder what happened to that poor chap who sat next to you on that one event. I love math personally. It makes sense. Not like people, who largely are screwed in the head.


  10. AmyRose🌹 says:

    It’s a real bummer when a teacher cannot teach, CM. I had a few of those and oh yes I know how miserable my life was. I had to teach myself. That or fail.


  11. Great story. I too did well in my classes other than math (and those science like Chemistry that were math-like). But I still hate math. I’m impressed that you ended up teaching yourself!


  12. Geri says:

    It was so good to hear your mother stood by you even though you were failing. Congratulations on teaching yourself. My son could do math in his head but could not show the work, so they accused him of cheating. To prove the point I had them give him a test in front of the teacher and he gave the answers without writing anything down. There was no more accusing of cheating after that.

    Liked by 1 person

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