The Rules of My Middle School Education

“Do I really have to do this?”

Since I began homeschooling my child, this question has been on repeat daily.

He never likes my answer.

He knows I have not used algebra since 1995 when I was at Truett-McConnell.
When it comes to geometry, trigonometry, and any other math involving letters, shapes or things beyond basic adding and subtraction I am out of my skill level.

And he knows it.

“You seem to function without math and the like,” he says, his mind spinning some web I approach carefully.
“Define function.”

His eyes narrow. “You haven’t used algebra and these other demon maths in your daily life in over 20 years; why do I have to learn it?”

“Because one day you will you will have to help your child with it like I am doing.”

He didn’t like this answer either. “I don’t know how that will be possible.  I don’t feel like you are giving me the same level of education you got.”

“Of course not, Cole. No one is getting the kind of education I got back then!”

Back in the Golden Age of the ‘80’s when we were wearing neon, big hair and Reeboks, I was also getting the best learning.

All at the hands of Mrs. Carter.

Mrs. Carter was maybe the toughest, strictest teacher that ever graced the halls of my school.

She had a ramrod straight back -- slouching was not allowed by any of us. Neither was poor hygiene. She told more than one child they needed to get to know a bar of soap and some deodorant.

Her steely gaze behind her glasses could probably divert a herd of stampeding buffalo as she applied her Jergen’s lotion to her hands behind her desk.

And she was all business and her business was learning.

That first day of middle school had a lot of us squirming in our seats.

There were a few who probably tried to smooch up to her but she quickly told them she would have none of that and sent them back to their desk.

The rules and expectations were laid out explicitly.

We turned in assignments on time; we turned in signed papers on time; we were in our desks when the bell rang and we were respectful of our classmates and teachers. Or else.

There were consequences. Oh, there were consequences.

A hundred math problems was one of the normal punishments that was doled out. If we even thought about being sassy about it, we could get a double serving.

And, turning in a signed paper may not seem important but in Mrs. Carter’s world, it was.

According to Mrs. Carter, by the time we got report cards, it was too late to make improvement; we needed to correct things beforehand.

If you didn’t get your papers signed and returned, you didn’t get 100 math problems. No. You got worse.

I must remember to get my papers signed for Mrs. Carter since this is to inform my parents of my progress before report cards go out” was what we had to write. It may not seem like a big deal but it could make your hand cramp up when you had to write it 25 times in your best penmanship.
If it was sloppy, you had to do it again.

If you forgot your sentences and your papers, you got another 25.
I think I once had to write this phrase 100 times.
I tried to negotiate. I begged. I pleaded.
Mrs. Carter would have none of it.
“Do you want to add 100 math problems to your sentences?” she asked as she looked at me over the top of her glasses.
“No, ma’am,” I said as I tucked my tail between my legs and headed back to my seat.

We were middle schoolers being given a glimmer of dealing with responsibility like adults.

We were held accountable, by golly.

I think she even told someone’s mama once they would get 100 math problems if their child came in without their progress note again.
“Your child. You should know what they are doing more than they do,” it was rumored she said.
I have a feeling if she did give the parent math homework, they did it, too.

She didn’t care who you were, who your mama was, or even your daddy.

Her rules applied to everyone. It may have been unyielding but in some ways, it was fair. Her own children were not even exempt which she reminded one son of one day when he went to bat for me when I got in trouble.
“Do you want a hundred math problems this evening?” she asked him.
We were friends but no one is worth math.  

She was tough. Super tough, maybe made from some cast-iron and titanium hybrid. She even told us once she knew some of us hated her and that was fine. She was there to teach us, not to be our favorite.

But, when it came to middle school teachers, she was my favorite. And she was in my top ten teachers of all time, up there with Mrs. Howard, Mrs. Krieger, and Ms. Blan, a group of ladies who not only taught but helped us learn as well.

Even as tough as she was, I knew Mrs. Carter did what a lot of those great teachers did. She loved all the kids in her classroom.

If she didn’t, she would not have given us life skills that went beyond math.

She taught us things that stayed with us forever.

“No, Cole,” I repeated after remembering my own middle school years. “You are not getting the education I got when I was your age. No one is, I am afraid.”

I may not use algebra, but I do use what Mrs. Carter taught me just about every day.