The Algebra Lesson

Mrs. VanLandingham was the one who demanded the most from me of all the teachers at Lake Junior High School. She taught math; not beginning math but Algebra 1 & 2 and geometry up to solid.

She was old (that was to us teenagers) and probably would have been considered as middle-aged. As I look back, she was short and heavy and she was tough. The seniors and juniors would warn the freshmen and sophomores (7th and 8th grades) of how tough she was. The told us the story of one of the Jokesters who disregarded this information and, when he got into her class one semester, and happened to sit next to the window, arranged some fresh garlic buds on the windowsill until the room stank. I often wondered what would have happened if the comedian would have been an “A” student. Would Mrs. VanLandingham have forgiven his violation of our sense of smell? As it was, her sharp eyes took about ten seconds to figure out what had happened and the big lout was gone and never came back to that class.

Many a student, including me, shivered in our boots when we learned that our schedule included one or more classes with her. Much to my surprise, I found out that the decorum in her classroom was the best in any class that I had at Lake, and that was so even when she wasn’t in the room. She was there to teach you, and you were there to learn, and there was no doubt about this fact of life.

In her classes, she had the routine of having the homework, from the night before, be assigned to students to be chalked on the blackboard. The students were chosen by starting at the front seat in a row and going down the row one after the other. As we never know which row she would start with, it behooved us to all do our homework. If the chosen one had to admit that he or she hadn’t done that problem, then the next one in line was chosen. The book we were using (this was in Algebra 2) had the answers in the back of the book, but it was important that we be able to show all the details of how the answers were accomplished.

One day, when I hadn’t been able to find the correct solution to one of the assigned problems, I figured that I would be lucky and wouldn’t have to that problem in front of the class. I should have known better. Actually, the line started in the first row next to the door and I was seated in the third row about half way down, so the odds were all in my favor. The problem was one of the many we had to do, so I sat there all happy and stupid. When that particular problem was called, the third row from the door was called on. I should have known! Nobody in that row, including, of course, me, had been able to come up with the solution. When the ax fell at my site, I had to admit that I didn’t have the right answer, but no one else in my row had it either. When the last person in that row admitted that he had not done the problem, Mrs. VanLandingham said, very loudly, I thought, “Jacob you get to that blackboard and do that problem!” “Yes, ma’am”. I quavered, and stumbled up to the board. The chalk seemed so slippery I had a difficult time holding it very well, but I finally managed to write out my incorrect answer to that problem. It was a long problem, and I took a long time to get it on the blackboard. When I turned to go back to my seat, I noticed several of my fellow students with looks of pity for me.

When I got back to my seat, I read over what I had written, and, Lo! and Behold! I saw my mistake and went back up and corrected my writing. What I realized after I got back to my seat the second time, that I had not asked permission from Mrs. VanLandingham to get up while the class was listening to her lecture, and she never called me down for my blunder!!!

I learned from Mrs. VandLandingham, and I realized that she had made it fun for me.