Notwithstanding one marvelous exception, I was notoriously bad at math all through middle school. I don't know why, but the kid in this unfortunate position always seems to have a special relationship with the math teacher - one of helpless shrugs from both sides of course, but there also always seem to be moments of silent acknowledgement. The kids in class that were the worst at math at a point in time seemed to get those confident, challenging smiles from the math teachers, and often those looks were returned with the same, if bluffing, confidence.
In eighth grade it was safe to say that I had become the worst at math of my entire class. I exchanged the odd glance with my math teacher, but basically never said anything during class. At this point almost all teachers had stopped calling up students who had not raised their hands, except in very rare cases, so I was fairly safe, so to speak. I smiled with half-assed confidence when the math teacher looked at me and she would not call my bluff.
Everyone in class was aware of my status. I was puzzled by basically anything our math teacher hurled at us. A failing grade was inevitable. But one morning, suddenly, I felt a glimpse of understanding in my head - a glimpse of an idea to the solution to the math problem on the board. Suddenly I was calculating in my head. I had long given up on even trying to do that the year before, cause most of my classmates were so much faster doing their calculations that they'd raise their hands before I was even halfway through with mine.
The teacher asked her question and suddenly I had raised my hand. The people around me were looking at me in silence and did not even bother to raise their hands as well. Of course the teacher called my name. I got up, and the two classmates next to me started humming a melody: The synth riff from Europe's "The Final Countdown". I wasn't really afraid I might get it wrong. I was there, walking toward the board. I was present, I was participating; that was all, and that was all worth it. My answer, scribbled hastily on the board, was incorrect. But no, that did not really matter.
A year later I had switched schools. And I was not the worst at math in class anymore. That honor fell to another kid, let's call him Amir. Amir was one of those boys who was always goofing around. It didn't help that we were all in the midst of puberty anyway and our attention was divided at best. You instinctively thought Amir would fail class sooner or later, and he would. But again, our math teacher had a special relationship with him. He was an elderly man who started having troubles with his memory.
More than once this teacher simply lost the grades to our tests and actually turned to plainly asking each student in class what their grade had been. Only the second time he had the idea to order us to give him back the tests, and thus, produce the original results. He got this idea after turning to Amir, obviously. The teacher had asked him with a knowing, bluffing grin: "So, Amir - what was your grade?" The boy could not help but giggle a bit: "A three minus?"* That's when the teacher laid down his notes, still grinning, and said: "No, I don't believe that at all!" He ordered us to bring back the tests from home.
Amir had a similar relationship with the math teacher as I had had last year, at my previous school. He would never contribute anything on his own accord and even when he was asked would never produce anything much better than "I don't know." But then, one time, he suddenly did raise his hand. It was beyond unexpected. I myself could not figure it out - not just the math problem on the board, but also Amir. Why would he want to go to the board? I was sure he did not know the answer.
Of course Amir was called up. He made a big show out of it. His smile was more knowing and more cheeky than ever and the teacher had trouble hiding his puzzlement. Amir got up and walked past the other chairs like in slow motion, as if he was about to receive a prize, an honor or a degree. His confidence was beyond doubt. He moved toward the board without ever turning his back on the room. He took the chalk.
His smile grew even further as he gave another look to the teacher. Then Amir slowly raised the hand with the chalk and casually looked at his watch. That second, the bell rang. Amir put back the chalk and, in a gesture of inconceivably triumphant regret, raised both his hands.
*About a C/C- on the US American grading system