Tenacity of the Shrew

I've always been stubborn. It's my parents' fault. They named me Katrina after Katherina Minola in Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew because she was headstrong, and willful, and occasionally obstinate to a fault. I'm sure there was a time or two over the years, when in the midst of teenage angst they might have rather had a Bianca under the roof, but I'm glad I inherited some of the tenacity of my namesake. In seventh grade, I had a math teacher who thought that independent learning was the way to teach pre-pre-algebra (that's the best description I can come up with). She handed out these worksheets with letters and numbers, and somehow we were supposed to work at our own pace to figure it out. I'd never struggled with math before, but I just couldn't grasp how it was supposed to work on my own. I needed someone to show me the steps and explain it first.

I remember, very clearly, the day she pulled me aside, and showed me all the red marks on my worksheets. "Katrina," she said. "Math isn't for you. I think maybe you should work on figuring out how to count change, because you'll probably end up working at McDonald's." I was all of 12 or 13, and all I could get out of it was that she thought I was stupid. It was crushing.

I know I cried. Instead of helping me figure it out, she'd already decided I was bound for failure. How dare she?

I was fortunate that my parents were supportive and I'm a determined sort, but I wonder how many other girls were sidelined by a similar incident--would-be doctor's or engineers choosing a different path because of a short-sighted teacher.

Once I'd gone through a box of Kleenex and had my mom, a math teacher, help me figure it out, I decided that I wasn't about to let some old, cranky lady dictate my future. I was going to do well in math just to show her I was more capable than she could even imagine. I took pre-Algebra the next year, and then Algebra after that. I went to summer camp at Mt. Holyoke College for math. Then, I took Algebra II and Geometry, pre-Calculus and Calculus. I was determined to be good at math.

You'd think that would be enough, but it wasn't. That teacher also had a sign on her wall that said: "Good enough is not good enough." Clearly, I had to go all the way to show her. I majored in Biochemistry in college, but there were plenty of math classes sprinkled in. It got to the point that it wasn't so much about proving to her that I could do it, I wanted to prove to myself that I could go farther than even I thought possible. I enrolled in a Master's program, and then I had to know: did I have it in me to get a Ph.D.?

Ten years ago today (!!!), I proved to myself--and the world--and my seventh grade math teacher, that yes, I did indeed have what it takes. I put on my puffy black gown and mortarboard, and officially became Doctor Katrina.

Thankfully, over the years, I've had plenty of supportive, helpful, caring teachers who encouraged me and nurtured me. And that darn Shakespearean stubborn streak to fall back on when the going got tough.

So, hey, seventh grade math teacher: what do you have to say about me now?


Back to School

I succumbed to the lure of "Back to School Sales."

It wasn't planned, just a spur of the moment decision that left my wallet a little lighter and my free-time a little less free. Maybe it was the aisles of pristine notebooks (click here to read about my addiction), or the ink filled pens, or those wonderful mechanical pencils. Maybe it was the smell of crayons or the gleaming white boards. In any case, I was smitten. So, I bought a package of pens, cracked open a brand-new notebook, and registered for a six-week online creative writing class. 

There was a time when I considered myself a professional student. I used to joke that I went to grad school to put off having to be good at anything but learning. I knew how to organize my notes, study for exams, make presentations, and write term papers. The classes I took always brought me one step closer to a degree, and while I did learn a lot, I'd be lying if I said they were always fun. After I graduated, I moonlighted as a college professor for a while. I just couldn't stay away from the classroom.

But now, for the first time since I took a welding class as an elective in college (yes, I can run a bead and spot weld, and I have the picture frame I made to prove it), I was actually registered for a class where the grade didn't matter and it was all about learning. And fun.

Proof is in the Picture Frame

As the school buses came rolling down the street last week and everyone with school-aged kids celebrated the start of classes, I felt like raising my hand in the air to say "Me, too! Me, too!" I couldn't wait for the first class to post. What can I say? I love to learn.

I'm two classes in and so glad that I registered. Already, I've picked up some good tricks that will help on those days that the words just don't seem to want to flow. The assignments have encouraged me to try out some new things and I'm looking forward to the next few weeks.

One of the things I find I really like about the class is that participants are able to post their assignments (under a pseudonym) on a message board, and everyone, including the instructor, can comment on the piece. I like being able to see how everyone approaches the assignment, and the feedback I've gotten has been very valuable. I like the somewhat anonymous constructive criticism - to have the reader tell me what works and what doesn't is pure gold.