In grade 9 I had Mr. Brennan for Algebra. He was a really great guy and I think he was a pretty good teacher. However, everything that comes in to my brain has to pass through a gate where security does a quick evaluation and asks just one question before permitting entry: are you something I’m interested in?
Algebra was a big “No”.
So while my body attended class, my mind was usually somewhere else. Somewhere interesting.
I sat on the front row. That was either a seating chart curse or the result of Mr. Brennan trying to help my attention span stay focused. One day while he walked back and forth in front of the board, literally back and forth like a pong blip, explaining some formula or something, I was looking at the inner workings of my click pen.
I had it out on my desk, taken apart and separated in front of me: ink barrel, spring, push-thing from the top that further separated into 3 components, top of pen, bottom of pen. The point of all this was to stretch the spring out to create maximum pressure without over-extending the spring to the point it just becomes loose and non-springy.
Have I lost you in my nerdyness yet?
So I maximize my spring and start reloading all the pieces. Push-thing back together and into the top of the plastic case, spring re-attached to the ink barrel now with loads of spring left over, ink barrel with spring into the top of the case and then finally the bottom of the case and begin screwing it back onto the top.
Problem. The spring has created too much pressure and the threads won’t match. I push a little harder.
A little harder.
A little harder.
And just as Mr. Brennan crosses right in front of me I lose my grip on the bottom of the case and it shoots like an arrow right for his head. I watch in slow motion horror as it just misses the bridge of his nose and smacks into the blackboard behind him, breaking the plastic barrel.
He freezes. I freeze. He looks down and bends over to pick up the pieces of my pen case. He stands up and slowly turns towards me and walks up to the front of my desk. The whole class is holding it’s breath.
Looming over me, Mr. Brennan drops the remains of my pen case on my desk and says, “Almost got me.” And then he picks up right where he left off as if nothing happened.
I passed Algebra that year, but only as barely as I missed spearing Mr. Brennan’s nose.
Grade 10 Geometry (or 10th Grade in the U.S. where I’m from). Mrs. Leach.
I was failing and I wanted out. I was in the “going to college” track and they didn’t really want me dropping the class so a meeting was arranged with me, Mrs. Leach and my dad. I didn’t like geometry and I knew I was totally uniterested in anyone’s theorems, angles or trapezoid. I was way too busy figuring out how to get Shellie Beaman to think I was cute. That was a much bigger and more interesting problem than anything geometry class offered. And infinitely more practical.
I wanted out of geometry. It wouldn’t keep me from getting an F for the quarter but it would save me the hassle of going to a class I was not interested in and could see no obvious use for.
Mrs. Leach valiantly tried to explain just how useful geometry was.
“Say you’re working as a park ranger and you need to know how tall a particular tree is but you have no way of climbing the tree or running a tape measurer that long or high. Geometry gives you a way to measure that tree.”
“If I promise you that I’ll never work as a park ranger will you let me drop your class?”
We went around and around and around like this and my dad was not impressed with my argument in any way. He finally asked Mrs. Leach if she thought I was capable of doing the work and she responded with the words every student, every human being, dreads.
“If he would just apply himself.”
Just what are you supposed to do with that? That’s like, “because I told you so.” There is no reasoning when the “apply yourself” bomb gets dropped. I was too young to realize that and argued anyway, not realizing that the war was over and I had lost.
I finished that year and I passed, with a D. I don’t know that I earned that D and I’m very sure I didn’t apply myself. But it did mean I was finished with geometry and for the record, I’ve turned down every opportunity I’ve ever had to work in the forestry industry.