Last night, my sister called me for help with math.

I have three sisters. All of them have always had really terrible grades. I wish that I had worked harder to help them in school when I lived at home, but I wasn’t really mature enough for that when I was in high school. I didn’t see them as my responsibility until I left…

In any case, I have been working really hard to establish myself as a role model for them. It’s hard, from a distance, but I know it’s important so I try.

This year, Middle Sister finally took me up on my offer to help her with any homework she needed. So she calls for math pretty often, when she doesn’t get something. The difference is remarkable. She has gone from getting borderline failing grades to consistent As and Bs, just because she actually puts an effort towards her homework rather than just leaving what she doesn’t understand blank.

So, like I said – yesterday she called for help because she had failed three assignments in a row and she couldn’t figure out what she was doing wrong. After a few problems, I realized that she was making a very simple, but crucial, mistake (the slope of a perpendicular line is the negative reciprocal, but she was forgetting the negative). After that, getting correct answers was easy for her.

Happy ending. Hurray.

However, it concerns me that this was not caught by her teacher. You would think that if a student that normally has good homework grades suddenly fails three in a row, it would catch the teacher’s attention. And that perhaps the teacher would go over the assignments a bit more carefully and find out what was going wrong – especially if the mistake was such a simple one. But the teacher did not tell my sister what she was doing wrong. She just told her she had to make up the assignments.

I know teachers have a lot of shit to deal with that they have no control over, but this really feels like something that could have been resolved in the classroom, for once, and was not. How did she expect my sister to know what to do with no further instruction? Does she expect all students to have parents or siblings that can help them? I certainly hope not, because that is a very rare thing. Then again, if she doesn’t expect that, I’m not sure what she expects. Maybe she doesn’t care. I’m happier thinking that she has faith in college-educated parents (even though the incidence of college educated parents in my hometown is very low).

I’ve had a lot of exceptional teachers and a lot of mediocre ones and a lot of terrible ones, and I’ve felt like the only way to teach is exceptionally. You have to be willing to go the extra mile for your students. I think it’s bad to even think that’s exceptional – it should be expected. Is this too much to ask? (That’s not rhetorical. I know a few of you are actually teachers/close to teachers/etc.) Am I being unreasonable in my demands because I’ve never been in that situation?

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