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Unfiltered Story #292577

, , | Unfiltered | May 28, 2023

I was your typical obnoxious teen my freshman year of high school. I was smart but had an unstable home life that contributed to my poor decision making. Despite my lack of learning and hard work, I had always (barely) passed my classes.

My first year in high school I had math for my first period. I enjoyed math but frustrated my teacher by rarely doing my work and even less frequently showing my work. As the year progressed, I fell behind like I did in every class. The second half of the year started, and I fell further behind in class and more annoyed with my math teacher. I would typically submit about 10% of each assignment and expect about 10% credit, but because I did not show enough work, he would dock me down to 5%. Despite always being polite (I may have been a sucky student, but I couldn’t stand disruptive or impolite students), my feelings toward him were obvious and when I tried to talk to him about my assignments, it was clear he was also annoyed with me.

About three months before the end of the year my sister developed senioritis, which affected me because she was my ride to school. For those who don’t know, senioritis is when senior students know they are done with high school, either they know they are going to pass their classes or they’ve been accepted to college, etc., so they stop caring. Instead of being good students, they decide to do the bare minimum because at this point nothing in high school really matters. She did not want to go to her first period class, so she started ditching, resulting in me ditching. Initially I opposed it, but as my frustration with my math teacher increased, so did my absences.

Towards the end of the year, I thought I had time to catch up when my teacher ended up reaching his limit. He was frustrated with me and my absences and lack of work that when I was so behind, I had no hope of passing, he got me removed from class for the remainder of the year. I ended up in “study hall” (detention) for the last three weeks.

I had to repeat the course the following year, instead of over summer school, because it was an “honors” class. This resulted in me having a weird schedule because classes were only offered during certain periods for certain grades and I was a sophomore with freshman classes (I might have also failed honors science). Despite knowing those restrictions, both me and my math teacher were surprised to find that I was placed in his class for the second year in a row. Both of us tried to have me transferred out of his class, but for me to graduate on time there were no other options.

The humiliation of my previous year was enough to make me incredibly motivated. I was determined to do well enough that even if he hated me, he could not have me removed again. I made sure to do every problem for every assignment and turn them in on time. Despite all my effort, my grades were mediocre. My teacher only gave one point for the correct answer, but typically 5-7 points for work and he marked me down all the time. I talked to him, argued that I showed enough work for him to follow, but no matter what I tried, all he would do was to tell me to “show more work”.

A large part of the reason I hated showing work was because I had terrible handwriting. I previously went to a school that required ALL of our writing to be done in cursive, so I spent years only writing in cursive (I actually enjoyed writing in cursive and my cursive is beautiful). When we moved for my dad’s job, my new school district gave cursive assignments automatic zeros because they were “too hard to read” so after years of writing in cursive assuming Id never need to print again, I now had to print everything and my handwriting never recovered. As a result, to submit legible assignments, I tried to write as little as possible (my handwriting is still ugly).

After my grade on the first test did not match what I felt I earned, my frustration grew into outright hostility. It seemed that no amount of hard work would get me a good grade. I finally decided that if I was going to be miserable, I would make my teacher miserable too. After trying to spare him the atrocity that was my handwriting, I finally decided to comply. If he wanted to see more of my work, I would show him all the work. No more would I remove confusing and ugly work; no longer would I erase incorrect attempts scribbled across the page because my handwriting was so bad I couldn’t write straight; no longer would I rewrite only the relevant work in easy to follow columns. I would write so much work, it would be obscene.

I started writing out every single possible step, one by one with labels. If I messed up, I would leave it and rewrite it somewhere else. On every worksheet I would run out of the allotted room and cram my remaining work into the margins because he did not believe in “scrap paper”. My assignments went from a few formulas and legible bits of work to cluttered nightmares. Every bit of white space was filled, often spilling onto the back of the paper because there was not any room left. Homework assignments went from being 2-3 pages to 10-15 pages, sometimes more. All my assignments were just pages and pages of nearly illegible, ugly, chaotic work.

I figured it would take a month of this before he broke and asked me to write less because reading and grading it was such a chore. About three weeks in I got my first assignment back. It was the higher than any other grade I had received in his class. I was a little shocked but figured he did not have time to be annoyed yet. During the following week all the assignments I received were scored similarly. Then he finished grading the second test and asked me to come talk to me about my grade. I was preparing my speech about malicious compliance as I sat down in the chair by his desk but decided wait for him to speak first.

He handed me my test. It was covered in chaotic work, equations, and letters all over. At the top was 100%. I was stunned into silence. I had never gotten a perfect score on a real test before. My teacher began to talk to me about how impressed he had been with my work lately. He pointed out how even though my work was chaotic, it showed my thought process. He also pointed out some of the times where I caught my own mistakes mid-problem and corrected myself and how on previous assignments, I had been doing the same thing. He talked about how before I wrote so little that I typically never recovered once I made a mistake. He told me this was why he did not allow “scrap paper”, he wanted us to be able to see our mistakes and work as we progressed through our problems.

I sat in the chair in shock. I had sat in that chair many times previous, typically to try and debate with him over my scores. I also sat in that chair when he told me half a year prior that I had no hope for passing his class. I sat in the chair of someone I had despised for over a year, as he complimented me and told me that he always knew I was capable, and he struggled to watch me fail. He talked about how happy he was to see my progress and basically that he knew I would do well once I stopped making stupid mistakes.

I wrote down all the steps to annoy my teacher and prove him wrong and learned instead that I was being a bad student. I learned it is easy to make a simple mistake that can lead to the wrong answer, but when you see your work it helps you think clearly and catch simple mistakes. By the end of the year, I had one of the highest grades in the class (home life was still unstable) and when we did group work, many people wanted to work with me. The math teacher and I became friends (I learned he lived in my neighborhood and would visit him sometimes when I came back to town years later) and he ended up as my favorite teacher of all time. I went on to major in Mechanical Engineering and I have used this lesson every day for every assignment and would never had made it if I had not tried to punish my teacher with malicious compliance.

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