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And Like Zoom, She Was Gone

'I'm not interested in your math. Can I interest you in a prose?'

It’s the beginning of August and I’m starting to question my decision to become a teacher.

There is a stack of mock-standardized math tests on my desk, all waiting for the final question to be graded. I dreaded that final question.

It asked my third graders, some of whom were still struggling with the English language, to write a word problem for a given equation that included some ridiculous track team scenario about how many laps one particular runner ran.

There’s a very tiny box provided for them to write their answer in.

The equation was 4 x 3 = 12, and their word problem was supposed to reflect that 4 runners ran 3 laps for a total of 12 laps.

This wasn't in my school's math curriculum, or if it was I somehow managed to overlook it because I did not teach them how to do this.

Most of my kids left it blank.

Some of them wrote, "Four times three equals twelve." Points to them for spelling all of those words correctly and using word form instead of standard form or expanded form.

I really wish I could actually give them points for that. It’s better than a 0, but there’s a grading rubric we have to follow and am I the only one who didn’t teach my class how to do this?

It's my first month of teaching. I wasn't an education major. I've failed them because, I swear, this isn't in the curriculum and I don't know how to prepare them for it.

I want to cry.

And then. 

And then we have Jane.

Jane is a below average reader. It’s third grade and she’s one of many students who is reading at a second-grade level (and just thinking about how many more are barely at a first-grade level and how I have one student who can’t read at all triggers a whole new wave of tears).

Jane had been one of the last students to finish the test, had sat there and whispered the directions to herself, stumbled over some of the harder words, ran her eraser down to nothing. She hadn’t raised her hand to ask questions or for clarification. I didn’t hear from her once during the test.

Jane wrote in the box.

Jane didn’t write just anything in the box though, oh no. There’s no “Four times three equals twelve.” It’s more than that. So much more that the words keep going until they’re spilling out of the box, continuing down to the very bottom of the page.

Jane wrote an epic.

Jane wrote the tale of the exhausted runner, whose name was also Jane if you can imagine that, who was running and running and running and she was so tired but she kept going because her team was counting on her, even though she had been running for three hours.

Jane wrote how finally, in the twelfth lap, Math Problem Jane looked back and saw the three other runners catching up with her (oh, she remembered that Math Problem Jane is one of the four runners and I am so proud!) and she knew she had to go. So she took off with speed.

"And like ZOOM she was gone!"

Math Problem Jane won the race.

Because four times three equals twelve.

I love third grade.

The name of the student in this story has been changed to protect their privacy. “And Like Zoom, She Was Gone” is part of a planned collection of short stories from my four-year stint as an elementary school teacher, entitled So That Happened: The Funnier Side of Teaching. Teaching is far from easy; it’s important to remember the funny stuff! 
"I'm not interested in your math. Can I interest you in a prose?"  - Jillian Nusbaum. 

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