This post is a promise to some people who commented on a Facebook status of mine last night. The status read as follows: “I have a short neck. I’d never make it as a giraffe.” A friend then commented that I could be an okapi. I responded that I had an awesome okapi story but that it was rather long and would be better as a blog post.
So here’s that blog post.
Algebra, Eighth Grade, and an Okapi
***All names, except my own, have been changed to protect the innocent. This is a from-memory account. Dialogue and events are accurate enough but perhaps not exact.***
“Morning, class.” Mr. Nelson rushed into class like he did every morning. He closed the door and ran to his desk at the back of the room. “I have a competition today.”
I groaned and hoped desperately that it wasn’t a math challenge. Math used to be my best subject, but algebra was kicking my teenage butt. It didn’t help that Nelson wasn’t the best teacher.
“What is it?” Kevin said. He was our class genius and probably hoping to show off.
“It is a guessing game,” Nelson said.
It was Kevin’s turn to groan. By contrast, I perked up. I had a chance now.
“Ah,” Nelson said. He rushed back toward the front of the room. “This is my favorite animal. Who knows what it is?”
My hopes died. I couldn’t see what I assumed was a stuffed animal, and there was no sign of my classroom aid.
“Llama,” Kevin said, his voice brimming with confidence.
“Wrong,” Nelson said.
The pre-class chatter stopped for a second. Kevin, wrong? Kevin was never wrong.
“What do you mean?” Kevin said.
“I mean it’s not a llama,” Nelson said. “Any other guesses?”
“Deer,” one of the girls said.
“No,” said Nelson.
The guesses kept coming, each more ridiculous than the one before.
“Sorry I’m late, Mary.” My aid, Ms. Heckman, said as she took the empty seat behind me. “What’s going on?”
“Guessing game,” I said. “Nelson’s holding up his favorite animal.”
“Ah,” she said. “I’ll describe it for you. It’s—“
“All right,” Nelson said. “That’s all the time I’m spending on this. We need to move on to today’s lesson.”
Half the class groaned. The other half continued to yell out animal names.
“Enough,” Nelson said. “Today, we’re discussing FOIL.”
And so class dragged on, Nelson yammering about first-outer-inner-last.
I took my typical detailed notes. Usually, they were completely useless, but I actually understood FOIL.
“Homework,” Nelson said after about a half hour. He rattled off a page number and instructed us to only do the even-numbered problems. “Because the answers to the odd are in the back of the book.”
I wrote down the homework and closed my notebook.
“Time to switch classes,” Nelson said.
I gathered up my stuff and shut off my magnifying machine. Even moving pretty quickly, I was the last one out of the room.
“Nice animal,” Ms. Heckman said to Nelson as she wheeled my machine toward the door.
“I thought so,” Nelson said.
“Do you know what it is, Mary?” Heckman said. “It has a black body and a black and white face. Its rear legs are black and white striped.”
“Oh,” I said. “I know what it is.”
“Oh yeah?” Nelson said, his voice doubtful. He was probably positive no one would get it right.
Little did he know just how much time I’d had to myself over the years. Or how much of that time I’d spent playing the computer game for the TV show Amazing Animals.
I moved beside him and lowered my voice to a whisper. “Is it an okapi?”
Nelson made that teacher-is-irritated-because-student-knew-something-he-didn’t noise. “Hold out your hand.”
I did, and Nelson counted out five mathbucks—the reward point system he used for people who got tough questions right or got a certain number right on their homework.
“Oh yeah,” I said, fist pumping. Five mathbucks was a homework pass, and with my recent grades in the class, I hadn’t even seen one mathbuck in weeks.
“Don’t tell anyone what it is,” Nelson said.
“I won’t,” I said, almost skipping out of the classroom. In the hall I grinned to myself and slid the mathbucks into my folder. Oh no, I wasn’t telling anyone. I was going to relish in the fact that I’d known something Kevin didn’t and that I’d outsmarted Mr. Nelson.