I always feel the need to be prepared. This is not a bad thing overall, but in my case, I need to feel prepared for everything. I am that rare person who does not like surprises, of any kind, good, bad or otherwise. Interestingly enough I am not a control freak. I don’t believe it’s necessary to control every element of things. I just need to know what’s going on at all times. And I need a plan.
But I’ve recently been thrown into a situation where I have to be flexible. I substitute teach. And when the call comes in, it’s kind of like a box of chocolates: You never know what you’re gonna get.
I am pretty well versed in many subjects, or at least I can bullshit my way through most of them enough to help students. But there’s one area that strikes terror in me. Math.
I can do math, but the thought of math scares me so terribly that I freeze when I have to come face-to-face with it. It’s the result of an embarrassing 4th grade class experience that causes me to be triggered in public math situations.
So far I’ve been lucky in terms of assignments because they all have played to my strengths, world history, government, Spanish, English. But today, I served as a math sub. And I had no idea until I arrived. Remember, I do not like surprises so this information was not well received.
Here I was unprepared. But I had no choice but to dive in—the deep end no less. So it all went fairly smoothly as the day went on because I had math concepts that I remembered or could figure out fairly well.
And then came 6th hour, with 6th grade math. What fresh hell was this?!?! I literally broke out in a sweat praying to anyone who would hear me that students wouldn’t need help. And I almost made it through, until the last 15 minutes. Some poor sweet soul raised his hand, and I reluctantly went to his aid, if you can even call it that.
There were numbers, lots and lots of numbers, and decimals, and fractions, oh my! I almost felt like passing out and throwing up, but I leaned in, and surveyed the problem as the sweat began poring.
I couldn’t even think of how to solve this thing. So finally, I admitted to the student that it’s been a while since I had this type of math and that I’d need the teacher’s edition. So I grabbed the teacher’s edition, looked at the answers and I dug deep to try to remember how to solve this damn thing. I kinda remembered, and I bumbled through an explanation, but I felt terrible.
For one, here this student was asking for help and I could not offer adequate assistance. I felt like I cheated him. It was not a good feeling. And I felt like I had been cheated as well. Like that terrible classroom experience back in 4th grade had robbed me of confidence in the exact moment when I needed it most.
I powered through, but I couldn’t offer him a good explanation for how I came up with the answers and math is logical so without some logic behind it, you’re stumped. So I failed the student. But I guess as much as I could I triumphed in the moment.
It was not a huge success, by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m still here and although I was unprepared and did not perform as well as I would have liked, there’s something to be said for getting through to the other side alive.
I realize I can’t possibly prepare for everything, but if I take a deep breath and tell myself that I can do this and don’t you dare run in the other direction, then maybe, just maybe, as time goes on, feeling unprepared will get a little easier.