As we’ve gotten older we tend to forget a lot about our childhood or adolescence, especially if ones high school experiences were far from pleasant. I, for one had a hard time with math and science all around. I blame this on one particular math teacher in the third grade because he was just a prick and couldn’t take the time to tutor or not make fun of those of us who really needed his attention. But I’m convinced that this teacher didn’t care about his students, he was more concerned about his crappy 1976 Chevy Camaro than wanting to help the students that he knew were struggling in his class, there were only two of us that needed his help. Come to think of it, the asshole looked a lot like Jeff Lynne from ELO (Electric Light Orchestra) Like this…
Only he wasn’t nearly as charismatic or successful. He actually showed up to Parent/Teacher night plastered off his ass and couldn’t even talk to our parents. One of my friend’s moms said he smelled of pure alcohol. He’s the idiot teacher who asked me during career day what I’d wanted to do when I grew up. I said I wanted to be an interior decorator and the asshole responded with, “Not in El Paso you’re not.” Class act that Mr. Asshole Camaro Guy, class act!
It seemed that everyone else was grasping what he was teaching but not I or the other unfortunate soul who would come to me for help, what does that say? I did however do well in the rest of my classes, especially English, writing, history all the subjects I loved to learn about. In elementary school I got many awards for writing, English, essays and such, that seemed to come naturally to me.
I and several other students struggling with math slipped through the hands of every math teacher from the third grade all the way up to my freshman year in high school, failing math along the way because by this time I had it in my head I hated math. I wanted nothing to do with it and if I ignored it, it would go away. That is until I met my ninth grade biology teacher, Mr. Lopez. I loved biology, and loved going to his class but then one day I got in trouble for getting stuck on the roof of our high school gym (hey, there was a ladder, I was curious, someone came along while me and some friends were on the roof, they took the ladder and we missed our afternoon classes) anyway I wound up in detention.
Mr. Lopez must have done something wrong as well for him to wind up being the detention teacher that particular day, but that’s just an assumption. He made us take out any homework and said we had to do it during the hour we had to remain in school jail. I think I moaned out loud and didn’t want to do my math homework and he looked at me, then with his finger motioned for me to go up to the front of the class. As I did he said “Bring your homework Ms. Huntress” and I rolled my eyes and went back for my tattered backpack. He pulled up a chair next to his desk and whispered as I sat down and loudly put my things on the floor “What’s wrong with you? If you do your homework you wont have to do it home.” I knew he was right, but since it was math, I just wanted to forget about it.
He then said in a very fatherly voice “Don’t roll your eyes at me missy, tell me why you don’t want to do your homework?” So I told him, he looked at me and said what all other math teachers before him had said “It’s only math, it’s not that hard.” My frustration was at its breaking point and I said “No, you’re wrong, it is hard and no one wants to show me so it won’t be hard anymore, I hate math it sucks!” He looked stunned, and then told me to follow him out into the hallway and as I did he said loudly to the other delinquents in detention “I’m going to be just outside so no funny business, I can hear everything!” He closed the door to the classroom and said to me “Why are you having a hard time with math? If you don’t ask for help you won’t get it” and I responded with “I have asked for help, then I go for tutoring and the teachers make fun of me and tell me even their two year old kids are able to understand this.” Which was true one other math teacher said her two year old could do what I couldn’t. I had never wanted to punch a teacher in the face as bad as I did that day.
I was on the verge of tears and he must have sensed this and he said “Okay, let’s go back in and we’ll see what I can do to help you.” Not only was Mr. Lopez a great teacher, he was compassionate and understanding. But also a hard-ass if you got on his bad side, I saw that first hand when he was a chaperone on a class field trip. He didn’t stand for mischief and everyone knew it. As we sat back down I took out my math homework and he asked me “So how do you manage to do your homework at home?” I looked at him straight in the eye and said “I cheat” and his eyes got wide and then a smile came over his face as he looked down at my math book. “Well, at least your honest” and then he looked at my homework ditto and took out his pencil.
He quickly found out I didn’t know anything about algebra and even less about calculus. The hour of detention came to an end and as I gathered my things he said out loud “Oh wait a minute Ms. Huntress, I have to talk to you” everyone else snickered and hissed and one of my friends said “Oooohhh you’re in trouble now!” I gave him the middle finger as he walked passed me and Mr. Lopez closed the door to his classroom. He said to me “You need to go back and re-learn your math so you can get a hold of algebra and calculus” I almost wanted to cry because that meant I needed to learn my multiplication tables because that’s where it all started. I was embarrassed to admit that I was that far gone, I didn’t know my multiplication table at the age of fifteen, I mean I knew the fives, twos, tens and elevens, those are the easiest to learn, who doesn’t right? I figured I had nothing to lose so I cried and told him about why I hated math and how I was ignored by all those asshole math teachers when I asked for help. He hugged me (which now a days can be totally misinterpreted by idiots) and said he’d help me.
He said he’d stay another half hour if I could too in order to begin my tutoring, reluctantly I said yes. I say reluctantly because I would have rather been at home watching reruns of Gillian’s Island, Brady Bunch and the Partridge Family waiting for dinner. So he began from the very beginning, and I stayed to be tutored for almost four months, three days a week. Which was torture for a fifteen year old who had softball and track practice. Don’t ask me how I stayed on those teams failing math all those years, its nothing short of a miracle. In fact that’s mainly why I tried out for basketball, because I figured I could get away with it there too. I quit soon after I made the team, because our basketball coach was my eighth grade math teacher and he was an asshole. I loathed him because in basketball practice he’d yell at all of us but when it came to me he’d say things like “Come on now, get your act together this is basketball not math it should be easy for you!” then he’d laugh.
I let Mr. Lopez know about this and he gave a loud sigh and said “I’m not going to comment on Coach Dickwad and his behavior”, no he didn’t use the name Dickwad, I added it to protect the identity of Coach Dickwad even though he’s dead (yep dead as a fucking door-nail, sorry, not sorry) and I refuse to mention anyone by name who didn’t positively influence me. So from there I knew Mr. Lopez was going to help me, as we said back in the day, “for reals.” For four long, agonizing months I stayed and he taught me math from where I had left off in the third grade all the way up to my freshman math course. It wasn’t easy, in fact it was downright hard to learn math from seven years back all because no one had bothered to slow down and make sure all of their students understood every aspect of what they were teaching.
Mr. Lopez helped me through one of the toughest academic times I’ve ever encountered during adolescence. I learned what I could to get me through my math classes with his help and I appreciated that he stayed to tutor me after school because I knew he had a family and lived about twenty-three miles from our little town in the “big” city. It also didn’t hurt that he was extremely good looking, an older distinguished gentleman with timeless old Hollywood film start features. He looked like a young James Garner when he was on the t.v. series Maverick. So he was a dream to look at, well at least for me he was. As I made my way from freshman to sophomore I was forever thankful to Mr. Lopez my biology teacher who took time out to teach me the math basics so I’d be able to catch up academically.
During the middle of my sophomore year I got pregnant and left school to move nine miles away to where my future ex-husband lived and started school there. I don’t know how long Mr. Lopez remained at San Elizario High School, or when he retired or if he’s still around. All I know is, Mr. Gilbert Lopez helped a student in need when she needed it the most. And although I still hate math to this day, it helped that I got though the horror of high school math because of him.
Until next time y’all, remember chin up, soldier on and watch your back!