In 11th grade my chemistry teacher let me come to school on teacher work days to take the tests. That’s the kind of help I needed to make sense of anything. Mr. H didn’t talk to me as if he thought I was dumb. One day he gave me bracelet that had been sitting in lost-and-found for months. By the time he quit to take a job that paid real money, I’d dragged my grade up to a B-.
For the last grading period the new teacher arrived. Mr. H was tall, slim, and in his 30s. The new teacher was short, pudgy, and balding. I didn’t expect the new teacher to give me the same breaks as Mr. H. Still, I suppose I expected something.
“I don’t understand this exercise,” I said. I’d read the chapter a couple of times. Nothing made sense.
“Do you have a specific question?” he asked. He crossed his arms over his chest.
I looked at the page. “I don’t know what to do.”
“Do you have a specific question?” he asked.
“I can’t, well, I mean, I don’t know what to ask.” My face burned.
“When you have a specific question, come ask me.” He went back to his desk.
I didn’t ask him anything again, and when we took the test, I read the questions, waited for the hour to end, and threw my test away as I left class.
My grade was so low at the end of that grading period, I ended up failing for the entire semester.
Chemistry grades don’t much matter more than 20 years later. But when I look at the pages of writing, I feel the same way. And I do not have a specific question.