Last week, I distributed information regarding the AP exam and, at the end of class, a student asked me if I thought she should take the exam. This is a young woman who has said she wants to become an English teacher. My heart was a bit broken by this. This sweet, lovely student was twisted with anxiety over my answer, her face a pastiche of angst and humility.
I told her to go for it but not to judge herself on the number she might receive.
The entire weekend, I couldn’t stop thinking of her and how she was judging herself against a number she may or may not receive. So, yesterday, I took some time and wrote a her a two page (handwritten) letter which I then folded into origami cranes. I wanted her to have to unravel the message to get the message. As I understand, the crane is a symbol of good luck in Japan. Ironically enough, I learned how to make these from my German teacher….in Germany. Oh well…go figure. This is me we’re talking about.
In the letter, I told her to stop judging herself by a single action or by numbers that, in the end, are meaningless. At the same time, though, I realized how much I have wasted my life doing the same thing for myself. I have always given myself negative scores for various things. I’m not enough this or not enough that or have too much this with a pinch too much that.
How did numbers become so important?
As a woman, I can be rated and judged on so many things, and this is just related to my gender.
For example, I have two X chromosomes…and because I have an X and not a Y chromosome, according to Paul, I can’t teach men in church.
I can be judged on how tall I am (5 foot 4 inches…perfect little compact woman), how much I weigh (screw you for wondering), and the dimensions/ratio of my bust to my hips to my thighs (we are not touching that…thank you very much).
I can be judged on how many sexual partners (none of your damn business) I’ve had and how many hearts I have broken (0). Or how many times my heart has been broken (how many fingers and toes do I have?).
How many children I have born (2 and they’re perfect).
How often I clean the house (does the children cleaning the house count?) and do all the household chores..and the outside chores as well.
How much clothing I have (I dunno) to include my shoe collection (not including the dead pair of sandals that I keep on forgetting to throw out….5)
How many places I volunteer at (0…I’m a teacher, damn it…doesn’t that count as volunteer work)?
As a teacher, I have a whole new set of numbers…
For example, I have the SOL scores and the percentage of my students who have passed (100%), who have passed the first time (100%), who have passed above 500 (I don’t know), and who have passed with a perfect 600 (I really don’t know…and don’t care).
I can and will be judged on my AP scores to include: how many students take the exam(not done yet); how many students pass the exam (see above); how many students rank in the different grading fields (see above).
I am judged by 7 different standards related to education, teaching, and professionalism.
I have to earn 180 recertification points every 5 years.
I have to attend at least 6 tech talks and 10 or 8 or a million iTech thingamajiggers that I am not ever certain are different from tech talks..but I go to all of them because I lose count of which I have attended and how many I am supposed to attend. And this is just so I can show that I am proficient as an English teacher…technology teacher…I mean English. Yeah. English. Definitely English.
I am judged on how many books I have read (lots…I tried counting…stopped), how many of them are of literary merit (who is to judge what is literary merit), and how many of them might be considered trash (does Twilight fall into that category?).
How many of my students passed/failed? How many of my students went to four year colleges/universities? And the scholarship money….let’s not forget the money.
As a writer, let’s look at the numbers…
How many words are in the novel? (right around 72,000….less but I can’t remember)
How many times have I been published? (0)
How many agents have I queried (at least 7) and how many times have I been rejected (technically, 2 less than whatever is the real number because 2 agents never sent me an official rejection letter. They just never wrote back..oh well).
As a person:
How many laws have I broken (is speeding counted once or do I count every time I speed..if that’s the case…infinity).
The number of bank accounts (back off), the amounts within each bank account (seriously, I mean it…back off), and any additional financial assets including stocks, bonds, mutual funds, etc. (that’s it…I’m pulling off the shoe!)
How many cars I own (me, personally, 1. Pat included…4…5? Does the dune buggy count as a car? How about the tractor that doesn’t work that’s currently in the back yard and is un-fondly referred to as the yard art by my neighbors?)
How many houses I own (1).
How much land I own (at least 20 acres in West Virginia).
My pets (1 dog; 1 cat…maybe another cat that is trying to adopt the house but I refuse to let it in…and then there’s the raccoon…the family of coyotes that lived in the culdesac last year…..Do students count? They can be rather animalistic at times?).
How much music I own. How many technological gadgets I own.
Too much. Too many numbers. Too many ways to judge myself and compare myself against others.
And I forgot IQ score, SAT scores, GRE scores, GPA’s, degrees earned….
Too much…too many numbers.
When did the contents of one’s soul become a quotient that can be broken down into quantifiable data that can be measured and compared? When did the textures of a personality or a memory or the collection of experiences become less important that digits that may or may not be accurate or can be altered or misperceived?
Life is more than a collection of measuring sticks of varying heights against which I or we am/are constantly comparing ourselves. For years, I stretched and stood on my tippy-toes to try and find a way to fill up the silhouette of shadows cast by people I either admired or were admired by others. And I always fell short. No matter how many different ways I could fold myself or bend in awkward poses, I was never quite able to measure up.
I want this to be my declaration of independence. It’s not. It’s more so an acknowledgement of this….ridiculous method of assessment. At the same time, I have been stripping away from numbers to find the way to define myself that is comfortable to my shadow.
I’m an English teacher…why do I need numbers anyway?