A Sadly Familiar Pattern

, , , , , | Learning | July 9, 2019

I went to a private school from second through seventh grade. Each year, my school and the nearby private schools held a competition called Math Olympics. Basically, it was a Saturday where you took a math test against people in your grade, and people got ribbons for the top five scores.

I placed second in third grade, and was all prepared when the time came around in fourth grade. Like a spelling bee, there was a qualification round during class one day, where two “olympiads” and two alternates would be chosen.

The teacher passed out our tests during math time, but as people started getting to the last problem, she found that many people were asking for help. She went around just repeating, “Number 20 is a pattern,” to anyone with their hand up, dealing with other questions if they were on a different problem.

By the time my tablemate got to problem 20, I had already turned in my paper and picked up my book to read. He put his hand up, having been too involved in the first 19 problems to catch what the teacher had been saying, but there was a note on the board saying that she’d give a hint about it.

After what felt like a long time without the teacher coming over, he started waving his hand, trying to get attention. Eventually, he made small sounds when she walked by, which she did at least three times after I started paying attention. It was annoying, so I just leaned over and said, “Number 20 is a pattern.”

That, the teacher noticed. She snatched the boy’s test off the table before he could even pick up his pencil again, and told us both to stay in the room while everyone else went to lunch.

We sat there, alone, long enough to take our lunch boxes from the backpack area, eat lunch, and throw away our trash before our teacher brought back the principal.

The principal took us one at a time to tell her what happened, and I told her the truth of the situation — that the teacher had promised everyone a hint, but was ignoring my tablemate, so I told him exactly what she had been telling everyone else.

Despite explaining myself as best I could, it was deemed cheating, so neither of us were allowed to compete. I went on to win first place in later years, but I still find it unfair that I got labeled a cheater for that.

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