The Perils of Louella:

Chapter 195: Louella Makes Up Problems

by A.C. Cherbonnier
       LOUELLA knew she was about to have an “Ah Ha!” moment as a teacher--albeit as a long-term substitute, and on her first day, at that. A student had actually pretty much begged her to teach the class math. This has got to be one for the books! she thought, frantically looking around for an idea that could grab the attention of the 15 eighth graders who were sizing her up.
       A kid in the back row had some sausage-and-cheese fast-food wrappers concealed behind a propped-up book. The boy gave her a “So what?” look. “Suppose you stop by a fast food place every morning for breakfast on the way to school,” she began. “About how much are you going to spend for a sandwich and some hash browns?”
       Hands shot up. “Anthony?”
       “Yeah, I know! You be spending maybe three dollah.”
       Should I correct his grammar and spoil the flow? Louella decided to ignore it. She wrote his answer on the board. “And if you buy the same thing every day for a week, how much have you spent?”
       The kids looked puzzled. “Come on! How many days in a week?”
       “Well, you mean school days? That’s five. Or a whole week? That’s seven.” That came from the biggest kid. The seating chart said this was Godfrey.
       “Very good, Godfrey! I should have been more clear! Let’s say five days, okay?” Louella felt cold sweat form under her arms. This is really tough! Much harder than dealing with some board of directors!
       She laid out the problem as $3 times 5, and a gum-cracking girl with several gold necklaces called out, “That’s fifteen dollars! Whoa! That’s a lot of money now!”
       Louella wrote that in. “Okay! And suppose you do this 40 weeks a year! How much is that?”
       A couple of kids started figuring with pencils. “That’s six hundred dollars!” said Dontay, shocked. “That’s a lot!”
       Louella felt like risking a smile, but dared not. “It sure is! If you made yourself some eggs and toast at home, you’d be saving a lot.”
       “Come on! How much would you be savin’?” asked Jolee. “I mean, you got to have the stove, you got to shop, you got to pay the gas and electric, buy the groceries--”
       Louella found herself coaxing out the cost of eggs and bread and butter and estimates for fuel and time costs. In the end, she proved her point: a savings of about $320.
       “So you see how important math is?” she asked. “You use it to figure things out--find out the best way to do something, or even see if you can do it at all.”
       To her amazement, the bell rang. “Okay, class! Very good! Tomorrow, we’re going to figure out if you could afford to eat a fast-food breakfast every day if you have a job that pays minimum wage. You should talk to your parents about that tonight to get an idea of what’s involved in the problem. Oh, and starting tomorrow, I’ll be giving you problems for homework.”
       The students looked stunned, but they filed out in an orderly way. Louella felt drained and overwhelmed, but triumphant. I think I can do this! she thought. But there are four more classes to go! And I still haven’t seen any curriculum guides! They’d better have them!
       A very noisy bunch of seventh graders stormed in. Louella’s stomach lurched. Oh my God!


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This story was published on April 5, 2000.