Mr. Stuckenschneinder was my ninth-grade math teacher. Most of the students in my junior high thought he was a nice man, but I thought he was strict and very intimidating.
All three of my younger sisters had him and really liked him, and they all got good grades. I have always wondered what crossed his mind when he learned that another Cazier would follow me in his class. I’m quite certain his first thought was “Oh crap!” I had this kind of effect on teachers, and it wasn’t the first time my sisters had to work hard to convince one of my former teachers that, unlike their older brother, they could get good grades. It’s a good thing they followed me because, after all, our family honor was on the line.
Math had never been my best subject, and I remember the beginning of that ninth-grade math class. I was determined to change my attitude towards math and really learn something in this class. I committed myself to pay attention to the lessons, and I worked hard on the homework, but sometime during the semester (probably the first week) I realized I didn't have the faintest idea what Mr. Stuckenschneinder was talking about. Shortly after, I quit listening. I quit doing homework. I quit caring about the class. I quit worrying about the consequences of my actions. I was afraid to ask questions. I gave up on math and myself.
In spite of these challenges, I never sluffed class, nor did I ever think of sluffing. I attended class every day and never caused trouble. I was an invisible student who never said a word, never showed any interest in class, never turned in an assignment, and never passed a single test.
Every day I showed up with a library book and spent my time reading. I tuned out Mr. Stuckenschneinder so effectively that I didn’t even hear his voice or the voices of the other students as they participated in class discussions. I occupied a seat, just sitting there like a mime, only occasionally moving to turn a page. I was lost in my own world without a care about what was happening around me. In fact, the only effort I ever made in this class was to write my name on the tests.
I was prepared to get my first ‘F’ on my report card.
To this day, I believe that Mr. Stuckenschneinder watched me, took note of the fact that I didn't do anything in class, didn't disturb others or create problems. As I think back on this experience, I have a new appreciation for this teacher. He must have known that for some reason I was struggling and had compassion on a small, quiet student (at the time I was one of the smallest kids in the school).
I didn't deserve an ‘A’ in that class, and I didn't earn one either. I was, however, pleasantly surprised that I didn't receive an ‘F’ but instead got a ‘D-’ for which I was very happy.
Today I believe I received that ‘D-’ because I was not a troublemaker, although it might have been because he didn’t want me as a student again the next semester. I am grateful for the kindness and generosity that man showed a poor student who eventually went on to earn a PhD, but at the time showed no aptitude for such success.
My parents could easily have confronted Mr. Stuckenschneinder about my grade, but I don’t believe it would have benefitted me at all. In fact, it may have been destructive to my future growth and development. I am grateful for parents who let me fail and in failing helped me learn. Of course, each child’s situation is unique, and parents need to consider what’s best for each particular child at each stage of their life. But, please, be careful not to rush in too soon to solve kids’ problems for them. Sometimes it’s best in the long run to support and encourage them, teach them how to solve problems on their own, and give them time to grow up.
Here’s to Failing Forward,
Calvert and Anne
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