Tenacity of the Shrew

I’ve always been stubborn. It’s my parents’ fault. They named me Katrina after Katherina Minola in Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew because she was headstrong, and willful, and occasionally obstinate to a fault. I’m sure there was a time or two over the years, when in the midst of teenage angst they might have rather had a Bianca under the roof, but I’m glad I inherited some of the tenacity of my namesake.

In seventh grade, I had a math teacher who thought that independent learning was the way to teach pre-pre-algebra (that’s the best description I can come up with). She handed out these worksheets with letters and numbers, and somehow we were supposed to work at our own pace to figure it out. I’d never struggled with math before, but I just couldn’t grasp how it was supposed to work on my own. I needed someone to show me the steps and explain it first.

I remember, very clearly, the day she pulled me aside, and showed me all the red marks on my worksheets. “Katrina,” she said. “Math isn’t for you. I think maybe you should work on figuring out how to count change, because you’ll probably end up working at McDonald’s.” I was all of 12 or 13, and all I could get out of it was that she thought I was stupid. It was crushing.

I know I cried. Instead of helping me figure it out, she’d already decided I was bound for failure. How dare she?

I was fortunate that my parents were supportive and I’m a determined sort, but I wonder how many other girls were sidelined by a similar incident–would-be doctor’s or engineers choosing a different path because of a short-sighted teacher.

Once I’d gone through a box of Kleenex and had my mom, a math teacher, help me figure it out, I decided that I wasn’t about to let some old, cranky lady dictate my future. I was going to do well in math just to show her I was more capable than she could even imagine. I took pre-Algebra the next year, and then Algebra after that. I went to summer camp at Mt. Holyoke College for math. Then, I took Algebra II and Geometry, pre-Calculus and Calculus. I was determined to be good at math.

You’d think that would be enough, but it wasn’t. That teacher also had a sign on her wall that said: “Good enough is not good enough.” Clearly, I had to go all the way to show her. I majored in Biochemistry in college, but there were plenty of math classes sprinkled in. It got to the point that it wasn’t so much about proving to her that I could do it, I wanted to prove to myself that I could go farther than even I thought possible. I enrolled in a Master’s program, and then I had to know: did I have it in me to get a Ph.D.?

Ten years ago today (!!!), I proved to myself–and the world–and my seventh grade math teacher, that yes, I did indeed have what it takes. I put on my puffy black gown and mortarboard, and officially became Doctor Katrina.

Thankfully, over the years, I’ve had plenty of supportive, helpful, caring teachers who encouraged me and nurtured me. And that darn Shakespearean stubborn streak to fall back on when the going got tough.

So, hey, seventh grade math teacher: what do you have to say about me now?



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