Teachable Moment

Tell us a moment or an incident that you treasure  – not necessarily because it brought you happiness, but because it taught you something about yourself

The year I was in tenth grade was the smoothest year of high school for me. Yes, at times it was challenging, but it was only challenging because I was learning something new each week. That year chemistry was a weak point for my science strengths. Now, I’m an expert for chemistry. My past chemistry teacher (Mr.K) is one of the best people on the planet, he’s great.

While I was learning chemistry in tenth grade, the subject was by far the most difficult class I had ever taken (including math). My chem teacher could tell when I was lost when he taught specific lessons. For example, the lesson when the class learned how to balance chemical equations. I was completely lost. I understood the importance of balancing equations; I just couldn’t figure out how. Mr. K was extremely patient with me while he tutored after school for that topic. In about three tutoring sessions I was able to balance chemical equations without a problem. Sometimes when I need tutored in another subject area my tutors make me feel stupid. I know I am not stupid. Mr. K was the first tutor that I’d never had that issue with. Anyway, the school year progressed and chemistry was still a difficult subject to tackle. But I never doubted that I couldn’t overcome the challenge of the class. I was able to learn each chemistry topic; sometimes with the help of Mr. K or my friends. One of the reasons I never gave up was because my chem teacher always encouraged me to persevere through my frustration with myself and the science topic. Why couldn’t I understand new material just as fast as the other students?! Why the hell was it science that was proving to finally be the toughest academic hurdle?! It felt like my strongest subject was personally betraying me. But I studied and tried to carry on.

That May, Mr. K warned the class that he was preparing an AP Chemistry lab for us to conduct in small groups. He told us that it was for a fairly large grade since the lab included everything the class had learned to that point. Now, the reason Mr. K told us it was an AP Chem lab was because he was giving it to us, the general chemistry class. “I want to see how all of you do in a rather simple lab with minimal guidance from me. This will demonstrate how much you’ve learned in chemistry this year.”

Well, sure I was quaking in my sneakers. I’d been earning low B’s and high C’s in Mr. K’s chem class all year. What do you mean an AP Chemistry lab for general chem students? But I knew Mr. K wasn’t insane. He was brilliant.

The day finally arrives for the AP Chem lab for us. Unfortunately that specific day was turning out to be a very shitty day for me. That year my last class for the day was chemistry. The classes were dreadful for me this day of all days. I failed my civics test, I managed to argue with two friends at lunch and I had been late to English. To say the least my nerves were frying up rather quickly that day. Finally sixth hour arrives (chemistry the last class) and I’m thrown in a group to conduct this AP lab. At this point in my day I just want to let everything out and cry. But the show must go on. Our AP lab is simple. It’s a mass displacement lab combined with an evaporation lab. Our work must document every calculation, step, observation and logic process based on knowledge and experience that we had learned this year in chemistry while still producing the correct data within the lab experiment. Easy you say? Maybe, maybe not. After the class reads and listens to directions at our lab stations our chemistry teacher announces that catch. “Now, don’t panic or feel bad about how difficult this lab is, you shouldn’t expect it to be easy. But when I give this lab to my AP students their final mass results and calculations should have no more than 2% inaccuracy. In other words, you should have an accuracy of 98% or higher. Your written calculations should match up to the measurements and aid with the accuracy.”

Oh good, no pressure. Fifty two minutes to complete this lab as well? Easy as pie (or pi). My group begins the experiment meticulously writing down everything specified and double checking calculations with each other. Eventually the minutes tick by and consternation appears on our faces as we continue the lab. Mr. K walks over to our lab group and peers over our work. We have just completed our lab. He checks over our calculations with his own calculator. He double checks our other work for the lab. Then Mr. K asks for an oral response from one of us. Mr. K asks me for an oral response for how we conducted the lab as a group. Interesting he chooses me. I give the oral rendition of our lab write up. He smiles, nods and says thank you. But then Mr. K inquires, “How confident are you with your accuracy with the results?”

Our group looks at one another in fear. “Fairly confident since we applied what we learned to this experiment and followed the directions. But we can always be wrong.”

Our chemistry teacher chuckles and says, “No, you guys really have less than one percent inaccuracy for this lab. Excellent job, I’m very proud of each of you. It’s difficult to be this precise even under the best of chemistry labs in the classroom. Well done.”

That day I learned that I worked hard for everything that I had studied in chemistry. The group worked hard for our success that hour. The whole year in chemistry was difficult for me to be honest. It’s nice to know that with help, determination and encouragement I can learn and accomplish anything. But I couldn’t have passed chemistry without my brilliant teacher. Mr. K believed in me so I could believe in myself. The whole chemistry experience helped my understanding of how I approach my concentrated academic challenges.




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