I failed 9th grade algebra.
I assumed that I needed a photographic memory, or maybe it was because I’m dyslexic. I definitely lacked the stealth necessary to cheat; classmates routinely lifted their shoulders to block my vision of their exams. I could never explain why I tested so poorly, but standardized tests weren’t interested in my excuses. The deeper my grades sunk, the further back in class I’d sit; this also closely tied to the lack of effort teachers invested in me. Teachers forgot me once the back of the classroom became my domain. I stopped attending class after failing math for a third semester; until truancy officers brought me back.
“At this point you’re likely to graduate two years after your peers,” my advisor informed me, never prying her eyes from my transcript.
My advisor suggested attending an alternative high school to accelerate my credit accumulation. I applied for the alternative school, but by the time I was accepted I’d grown jaded, and developed a disdain for school and its administration. My test scores led everyone to turn their backs on me, and I’d now been funneled into my last option. A seed of resentment grew to be my primary motivator. Graduating high school for my own good became almost secondary, I was determined to void test scores and disprove everyone’s opinion of me as a failure.
Refocusing myself in high school was challenging. I applied myself to a degree I was unaware I possessed. My grades caught momentum, and I even passed algebra — thanks to one teacher in particular: Mr. Manjee. I don’t remember exactly what common interest we found, or what gave our relationship footing, but we bonded very quickly. Manjee introduced math in style, and demonstrated its application in everyday life during his lessons. He helped me, and other students with a track record of failing, not only pass algebra, but to see it’s usefulness. Manjee kept a diligent eye over my studies throughout my time at the alternative school. By senior year, I managed to raise my grades tremendously, averaging an A and eventually graduating as class valedictorian. Suddenly, I had high hopes of attending a university. College tours gave me a glimpse of a life in which I could recreate myself. I could forget downtrodden schools in impoverished neighborhoods. I wouldn’t have to share the same fate as my parents or the other kids in my neighborhood.
I recognized the letters of rejection by envelope size. A dream simply doesn’t fit in a letter-sized envelope. I was denied by every university that I applied to. Two years of Fs coupled with two years of As, formulated a cumulative average of Cs. No reputable college wants a C student.
Despite this, I didn’t feel an ounce of discouragement. Ironically, I was inspired. I had proved to myself my goals are always within reach. I was shocked to learn Manjee felt as if he failed me after all his encouragement and help applying to college. Manjee’s success with me lay elsewhere. Manjee viewed me as intelligent, capable, and amusing; although I did not identify with these qualities, it was flattering to have a teacher think of me as a person with qualities rather than a grade or college name. My presence never felt unwarranted, and it never seemed that the scale of my problems was insignificant to him. Most of all, he was patient and allowed me to learn at my own pace. My relationship with teachers renewed, I genuinely believed in the opportunities education could offer me.
I ended up attending community college, eventually transferring to a four-year school. I remained in contact with Manjee over the years. He continued teaching, but often felt deterred by how the school system perpetuated inequality. He went on to join Kiddom, an education technology platform, as their Chief Academic Officer. Manjee had been privately consulting Kiddom’s CEO (and his best friend) while he taught, helping design a way to ease the burden of tedious tasks with technology, and allow teachers to allocate their time where it was needed most: with students. The creation of Kiddom revived in me what originally solidified our relationship; it was that core commonality of resilience. When Manjee told me Kiddom was hiring and that I should apply to support teachers, I saw this as an opportunity to repay someone who’d done so much for me. I began working at Kiddom as a Teacher Advocate. My tasks involve assisting teachers navigate the platform, customizing Kiddom to fit their classrooms, and occasionally, occupational therapy. I listen as teachers express their frustration with the archaic systems in place.
“I love math, but I find it pointless if I’m unable to inspire students to use mathematics creatively. I’m merely a robot at this point,” a teacher once told me, “ I love this program. Knowing that there are people out there who believe as educators we are responsible to meet the needs of children not only academically but emotionally, makes me think that maybe I could keep going.”
This particular teacher loved Kiddom’s social emotional capacity. He’d taught math for ten years, his spirit diminished because he knew students needed more than a mechanical exchange to truly cultivate their minds. This conversation lead me to reminisce on the many math teachers throughout my education, and my transformative relationship with Manjee. Maybe teachers long for more ‘aha!’ moments with their students? Maybe over-testing leads teachers to grow jaded? I realized teachers yearn for a relationship with their students, but unfortunately bureaucracy often creates discord. I was delighted that this math teacher found a solution in Kiddom, and then it dawned upon me — Kiddom had also just saved a forgotten kid in the back of the classroom.
Thank you teachers, old and new, for continuing to look for innovative ways to connect with your students.
Written By: Kashon