I hate moving. I hate it a lot. It’s physically demanding, emotionally draining, and there’s no time for resting. You have to interact with people you don’t know, who will likely become an impactful part of your new life. So you know—first impressions.
During this most recent move I was anxious to get the kids into school immediately. I knew adjusting was going to take time and there was no sense delaying it. So we ran around between the three different schools taking care of schedules and paperwork.
My 7th grader proved to be the most difficult to get settled in. Not just because he was the least thrilled, though there was that. This school was massive. He felt his insignificance as soon as he stepped through the doors.
“It will be better once you get into your classes.” I hoped I wasn’t lying.
When I picked him up after his first day I wanted to know everything. He gave me one word answers. Until we got to pre-algebra.
“The teacher moved me down to another class.”
“I don’t know.”
Each day it was the same. “Math is too easy. I did all of this last year.”
After a few days of this I turned the car around and parked in an empty stall in front of the school. It meant wrestling kids into the school with me, but I didn’t know his teacher’s name. During registration they hadn’t known where he’d be so I didn’t know how to contact any of his teachers. Besides, a face to face chat would probably be more effective anyway.
The ladies at the office pulled up his schedule and called his teacher to see if she had a minute to chat. With a loud beep, the door unlocked and I hauled the kids into the building, their voices echoing through the massive hallway.
His math teacher was young and full of nervous smiles. She relaxed as we chatted, enamored with the two year old. But the only reason she could give me for the change in classes was that the pre-algebra class was really intense and the teacher didn’t like anyone to miss her class. I guess there was no place for a 7th grade newcomer. When I pointed out that he already knew the material they were covering in his current class she dismissed me with, “We do things differently here in Texas.”
That night, when I explained the details of the conversation to my husband, he was just as confused and frustrated as I was.
Fast forward a few months when the 12 year old was registering for classes for next year. He didn’t know what math class to sign up for. We looked at the schedule and we weren’t sure either. For the first time we fully processed the ramifications of what the past several weeks meant. Our son had started the year in one class and would have to repeat that class again next year. He has made zero progress in math since moving here…and won’t make any progress until the second half of next school year. My husband was not happy about this. So he promptly sat down and shot off an email. We knew the names of teachers now.
A response was waiting in his inbox first thing the following morning. That afternoon our son was given a math test to see how extensive his knowledge really was. It was the end of the 3rd quarter. Why didn’t we do this back in November when I took the time to go in and talk to his teacher face to face? Why was my husband being taken seriously when I hadn’t been?
I’ve tried to explain to my husband during our 13 years of marriage how much faster he gets results because he’s a man. It’s the reason car repairs are always more involved and expensive when I handle them than when he handles them. But this is the first time he actually believed me when I pointed out the difference. This time it wasn’t just a hypothetical it-would-have-turned-out-differently-if-you’d-done-it. This time he could see it.
Our kid will be fine. He’s smart and school comes naturally to him. It’s irritating that he’s missing opportunities to progress in math, but in a few years it won’t even be a big deal that he had this set back. He’ll take the math classes he needs, he’ll pass with flying colors, and he’ll move on with his life.
We cry for equality. We blame men for not taking women seriously. For not listening to our ideas and opinions. Not all men inhibit women like this, but it’s not surprising when the mechanic calls with extra repairs when you know he wouldn’t try to weasel more money out of your husband.
But in this school incident it was other women doing the dismissing. From the counselor, to the two teachers involved…all women. Women who I suspect experience the same kinds of frustrating, repressing attitudes in their profession.
I’d like to claim this was an isolated experience. But it’s not. I see it often in the writing world. Most of the writers I know are women. It’s a rare thing when a man joins the ranks. But when he does, women sit up and take notice. They engage. They make room for his voice. Is it because interacting with a man somehow brings validity to their own efforts?
When the time came to follow-up with the school, my husband was swamped at work. So I logged into his email and typed up a brief email with terse words. Like a Bronte, I signed with the power of a man’s name.
Because we’re not doing things that differently in Texas.