When I was in high school, almost twenty years ago, I remember being so intimidated by my math and science classes. It never occurred to me to think that I was good enough. I never had any problem with my English, History, or any other class that required reading. I was also too invested in caring what boys thought and what girls were saying. How shallow of me, how I wish I could go back and tell my younger self that their opinions don’t matter; The lion doesn’t concern himself with the opinion of sheep. I wasn’t confident enough to be who I was. On the other hand, I wanted to be just like the rest of the girls; have cute clothes, popular, athletic (I was on the swim team and water polo team, but I wouldn’t call myself the MVP at all) and most of all I wish I had someone (a boy) to go to the school dances with and not have to say the ever so popular line of, “I don’t even want to go to that stupid dance.” I never had any of it.
Eighteen years later…
“I’m so stressed, I think I’m going to cry. I had a fight with my boyfriend.”
This is my student, a smart and dedicated girl who is falling apart in front of her friend before class begins. Side note: I am a chemistry teacher at a high school, I teach the nerds. She looks at me because she knows I heard her and she, I’m sure is looking for some reassurance for the last exam she is about to take in my class will not result in an “F”. For the last couple of weeks, I’ve noticed that she has been more anxious than normal and for the last 2quizzes/exam she has mentioned how stressed she is and unprepared… she cried during the last one.
“Did you study? Is it your AP exams?”
Student: ” I had a fight with my boyfriend, I was up all night. I was just sad.”
Dammit! the XY has struck again! I have seen it time and time again, honestly, probably around 90% of the time girls get a boyfriend, their academics go down the toilet. I KNEW the smallest of the sex chromosomes had something to do with it (the Y-chromosome is incredibly small, and codes for the SRY gene, the gene that releases the necessary hormones to make a male. That’s pretty much it, sorry guys). She told me about her boyfriend and their relationship. By the by, high school girls want to tell you EVERYTHING, and as a teacher, I try to accommodate, but there are some things I just cannot listen to. I sent those talk to the anatomy teacher. I can’t, I just can’t. I feel, and this is just from my observations, that the distractions of a relationship or boys have a not so favorable result for girls.
They are so far ahead of where I use to be, they ARE confident, smart, and do well in the math and sciences ( I check their grades before the beginning of school to make sure they are in the right place. I’m not an easy teacher, academically). How is it that a boy can just unhinge them like that? And then there it is: Because they care, they want to put time into this new relationship. They want what I wanted too; they want someone to go to dances with and be part of the girls with a social life. But I want to be the voice I wish I had. The time that once was allocated for studying or their girl friends is now invested in the new relationship. This bothers me. Not just because I care about my students, but because I try so hard to empower girls in my class about math and science. I want them to be the doctors, physicist, mathematicians, engineers, researchers, whatever they want to be and not have second doubts because they think that the sciences are more geared towards men and feel intimidated by the subject.
I take her aside. I tell her the truth. My students know I won’t lie to them. It sometimes sucks, but they can always count on me, to be honest with them. I only want the best for them. As much as I want them to learn chemistry, I want them to learn to think for themselves, be kind people, and never think that something is too hard without trying. This goes double for girls.
“Boys are a dime a dozen, and in high school, you should focus on your studies. You have such potential! If he cares about you, he’ll understand that you have other priorities and that during exams, quizzes, and AP exams he is not helping you, especially when he makes you feel like this. This is not something you need, AT ALL.”
I want girls to be empowered. I want them to love science, or well… at least appreciate it. I’ll be honest, chemistry was not my cup of liquored tea. However, I went back to school and I didn’t let it intimidate me. I cried a bit, but only because It had been ten years or so since I had taken a real science class, and I had A LOT of catching up to do. I go in every day making sure that I’m in a good mood, ready to tackle their questions, distress, and ready to do it all with a smile and positive praise. They’re happy, not happy about chemistry so much as they are happy to come in and do the work. I hope I see one of my students one day making a difference, and if they make a difference in the field of science then I know I’ve done my job.