I was once asked by a fellow teacher, who was male, if I had any uncomfortable incident in my life that happened because I was a female. I immediately remembered my senior year in an American high school on an Air Force base in England.
I had already been accepted to my American university, and it was the 4th quarter of a school year that felt like prison. Math came easy to me, but I planned to major in English because of my love of reading and writing. My analytical geometry and trigonometry teacher was a male who spent our class time preaching about the ills of the American government and extolling the wonders of the British government—and not teaching much math. I believe that everyone has a right to an opinion, but I didn’t appreciate the man biting the hand that fed him because he collected an American government paycheck. I also didn’t appreciate being force fed his opinion since I was required to take his course that had little to do with what I was supposed to be learning.
He allowed us to write our formulas for all the equations on flashcards for homework, quizzes, and tests—so I did my homework at night and let my mind wander in class while he ranted. At the end of the year we had our final exam a few days before graduation. When I took my flashcards out of my purse for the exam, my classmates immediately warned me they weren’t allowed. I was the only person in class who didn’t hear him say we needed to memorize our formulas for the exam. I was terrified, knew I failed the test, and went to see him when it was over. Being in no position to be self-righteous, I deferentially told him of my dilemma. I said I knew I failed the exam but had to pass the course to go to the university where I was accepted. He smiled at me, winked, and said, “You’re a cute girl—you won’t fail.” I won’t describe here what I felt like doing, but what I said was “Thank you” and walked away. He imprisoned me and then cheapened me—but to be truthful, I have always thought it was my fault.
I used his politics as an excuse to be lazy, and that laziness put me in a position to lose my dignity. Throughout my life I’ve observed many difficult situations where the first reaction is an excuse. Excuses stunt growth. Ownership makes growth flourish. As a woman, a wife, a mom, a teacher, a grandmother, and an American—I believe we better take ownership of our own responsibility in any situation so we can truly be free to grow. It doesn’t hurt to learn from the mistakes of others, either. Trust me, when I became a teacher four years after that incident, I made it a point to not hold my classes captive to personal stories or opinions. Both males and females can be despots. Despite what I didn’t learn in math, I learned to take responsibility for my own actions through an uncomfortable wake-up call.