“Okay, here are the answers,” Ms. Gordon said as she placed the answer sheet onto the projector.
I skimmed through the answers hastily, not wanting to miss any questions. Number 1, check, Number 2, check, Number 6, check, Number 7…Number 7… I paused for a moment and double-checked to make sure that I was checking the correct question. Yup, it was wrong. I stared at the problem and mentally re-added everything together. Same answer. I grabbed my pencil and re-worked it using pencil and paper. Still the same answer.
“Ms. Gordon,” I called out. She looked up from her sheet. “Shouldn’t the answer to number 7 be 2½ quarts instead of 3 quarts?”
Ms. Gordon was not your ordinary stern-faced teacher with wire-rimmed glasses. Well, she actually did wear glasses sometimes, and she could be stern at times, but that wasn’t the point. The point was that she was Ms. Gordon, a short and stout African-American who had a very obvious Southern accent. And she was loud. On Monday mornings at 7:50 AM, we would be all woozy and tired and she’d just be jabbering on to the class. “So what is 34 times 3, class? … Class? Come on, WAKE UP EVERYONE! I don’t want to be the only person thinking at this time!” And when she taught, it wasn’t a lecturing type of teaching. She’d be standing at her projector and writing down each step of whatever she was explaining, with genuine eagerness, asking us questions along the way to make sure we were paying attention to her.
Anyway, after I asked my question, she eyed me suspiciously for a second and then her eyes flickered back to the answer sheet. After a moment, she opened her mouth, but no words came out.
Then she spoke, “Well, you guys didn’t read the question carefully. The question asked how many quarts she needed to buy. Of course she needed 2½ quarts, but she had to buy 3 quarts.” She glared at me with her arms crossed, expecting me to go, “OH…oops.”
But I didn’t. It didn’t make sense! “Why not?” I cautiously answered back.
Ms. Gordon looked at me as if the answer was obvious. “Because you can’t buy half a quart of milk at the grocery store! Half a quart is equivalent to a pint!” She was waving her arms like crazy.
“Well, I’m not in charge of grocery shopping at my house!” I burst out. What was this, a how-often-do-you-go-to-the-grocery-store test?
“Then go to the grocery store more often!” She definitely was annoyed.
“But…but…” I sputtered. “That’s not fair! You can’t take off points for that!” I was annoyed too.
A few minutes later after an excessive amount of debating, the whole class was also annoyed at me, Ms. Gordon was extremely frustrated, and I finally had to admit defeat since “3 quarts was what the book said,” and she “wasn’t accepting any other answer.”
For some reason, that one incident set off a whole chain of arguments. It seemed like every single class period, I would manage to find some reason to argue with her. I never really noticed how seriously she took it until I was telling a friend about it.
“Ms. Gordon never listens to me! She always ends up saying something like, ‘When you get to higher-level math, you will have to be able to do…,’ or ‘The book says _______. You can go write the authors of the book if you want to protest. Those people know a lot more about math than you do.’ I just don’t find math class fun anymore!” I complained.
My friend looked at me kind of funnily with a slight smile and said, “So you were that person in first period that Ms. Gordon kept on talking about.”
A lot of my friends think I’m weird in a way. I’ve been known to come up with some random theory about something and then try to explain it to my friends without any success at all. It would often take up the entire lunch period, and they would constantly ask, “So exactly what is your point?” and according to them, I would keep changing the topic to something else. They could never get my “point.” It was just plain frustrating.
Anyways, I was surprised by her comment. “Ms. Gordon said something about me?” My eyes widened.
“Yeah, she keeps saying that there’s this person in first period that keeps arguing with her.”
“What?!” I nearly shouted. I wasn’t really trying to argue with her, I was just proving my own answers right! I never said her answers were wrong! And she would never listen to me!
After some more questioning, I also found out that Ms. Gordon thought I was “stubborn,” “annoying,” “frustrating,” along with a whole list of other things.
The truth was I actually wasn’t used to arguing with teachers and being so…loud. (I was a different person with my friends. They thought I was amusing.) It was already the second semester, and everyone had their place among the teachers. I was the type of student who would sit in the off center region of the room and listen to everyone else talk. Something must just have come over me at 8 o’clock in the morning every day in math class.
One day after an argument (do you seriously need subtraction to realize that 4 is greater than 3?), she decided to confront me. “You know, I tell all my classes about you.”
I laughed. “I know. I’ve been asking around.” She didn’t even look surprised.
Every time I said anything that was barely disagreed with Ms. Gordon, the entire class would groan very loudly, and Ms. Gordon would always look annoyed and cross her arms even though her eyes kind of sparked a little. So, in order to get her less annoyed, (not completely un–annoyed. I still had my pride.) I tried to shorten my arguments to under a minute so they wouldn’t be as time consuming. Yet during lunch, my friends would still tell me, “Ms. Gordon said that she had a looong argument with ‘a certain person in first period whom you all should know very well by now.’”
But there was also the time my friends told me, “Ms. Gordon said ‘That person in first period proved me wrong today.’” I was so proud. Another time, she purposefully pointed out a mistake I had made on a worksheet. I think that she actually enjoyed arguing with me just so she could tell all the other classes about it.
Thanks to Ms. Gordon, the entire grade knew about my “half-quart” arguments with her. Once when I was in another class, I was defending my answer (I wasn’t really arguing.) and the whole class was like, “Don’t start arguing again like you do with Ms. Gordon.” The teacher actually didn’t look too surprised. In fact, since I had completely broken out of my “place” with Ms. Gordon, I was suspecting that all the other teachers were wondering why I still was the same quiet person in their classes.
I still didn’t know if Ms. Gordon liked me or hated me though. It seemed like she got really annoyed every time I said something contradictory, but according to my friends, she would usually (not always) be smiling whenever she mentioned “this person in first period.” Another friend said that she had to really like me in order to not get super mad at me when I argued with her. Still, she did seem frustrated when I was arguing with her.
Soon, it was end of the year, and most of my doubts about Ms. Gordon started unfolding. First was awards day, where the entire middle school crowds into the cafeteria and the teachers go up on stage to present awards to specific students. When it was Ms. Gordon’s turn, she went up to the podium and told us that she gave awards to the people who “really pushed her.” I’m telling you, it was creepy having the entire grade glare at you at the same time and mumble your name. And once she called my name, I was pretty sure of one thing. She didn’t hate me–it was the complete opposite.
Then on the last day of school, when I was saying bye to all the teachers, another teacher told me, “You know, Ms. Gordon thought very highly of you. You wouldn’t believe what she said to us during lunchtime.” (She didn’t mention anything about her own class…)
Now that I think about it, there was something special about Ms. Gordon, and it wasn’t really the arguing (although it was fun.) It was more of the way she made me feel different. I mean, I wasn’t just a student that was …there. I was actually someone to Ms. Gordon–me.
Over the summer, I went to the grocery store. They didn’t sell half quarts of milk there, only pints. But they sold half gallons and half pints. What’s wrong with half quarts?
I wrote this in 7th grade about my 6th grade math class. Intentionally left unedited.