“Play the Game”

Jerome A. White
January 1, 2011

Me the public schoolteacher: That’s a choice I made
You the student: You had no choice
In your perfect world mathematics would be relegated solely to the graceless nerdy class
Notwithstanding life’s imperfect planning
Kiddies: Learn to play the game

Here’s how it goes:
I throw a mathematical conundrum your way
It lands at your feet with a hollow thud
And before you even have the opportunity to bend down
pick it up, poke it, prod it
Become perplexed by the ponderous process of discovery
I’ll just tell you how some smart guy thousands of years ago
already solved the puzzle for us
We don’t have time to empower you with intellectual ownership
Stuff that heap at your feet into your backpack
and repeat what that smart guy did twenty times for homework
We’ll call this “education”
That’s the game
Learn to play

You’ll purportedly be scored on academic achievement
But look, just don’t piss me off and you’ll be promoted
whether or not you’re prepared

Over the years we’ll make believe that
Algebra is invariable to your daily routine, that
Geometry is complimentary to your lifestyle, that
Calculus is integral to your well-being
Did you appreciate those puns? No?
Just chuckle and snort along with me as if you did
Play the game

I appreciate your innate intelligence and charm
But I prize your attentiveness
Let’s just share a precious, uninterrupted 45 minutes without you fidgeting in your purse
as if I don’t know you’re texting a friend on matters more worthy of your consciousness
than whatever I’m preaching
I am not as much put off by the rule-breaking as much as
I am peeved by the insult to my powers of observation

I am a public schoolteacher
My population of gray hairs increases annually by the number of students on my roster
I don’t have much and I don’t ask for much
Please pander to my paltry sense of worth
Let me believe for a fleeting moment that I am the Pied Piper
proudly playing my titillating tunes
C’mon kiddies, follow me to the river
I promise my intentions are pure

Let’s pretend that we’re all marching with the same purpose
You want pretty flatteries on your report card, earned or otherwise
I want you to extract something useful from this class, academic or otherwise
There must be some overlap in our visions

If the only valuable skill you gain from our 10-month trek
is learning to sit quietly and look straight ahead
with a pensive stare that masks the fervent adventures bustling in your mind
we can even call that a success
Don’t forget to nod your head and blink once in a while
That’s the game I play masterfully in the conferences and faculty meetings
interspersed amongst the beautiful moments I get to spend with you
And it’s proven to be one of the most practical skills I ever learned in school
Learn it for yourself
Play the game