I stared at the block of numbers on the board.
I recognized all of them; I could count.
I did not, however, recognize any of them as what he called them: prime numbers.
“Come on, come on, come on!” he yelled,
helping none of us identify them. “Hurry up!”
We were supposed to circle them, picking them out of these groups.
There were four of us, all from the other class section.
Our teacher had some emergency to contend with,
so we were all huddled into the other section being babysat for the morning.
I should have prayed for the Fire Marshall to stop by,
point out to us that the room was overcrowded.
At that age I didn’t even know what a Fire Marshall was.
All four of us, we the visiting scholars from the other section,
stared at the four densely packed blocks of numbers.
All four of us glanced at each other, chalk sticks at the ready,
just in case divine intervention struck with the sudden knowledge
of just exactly what prime numbers were supposed to be.
“Geez you guys. Pitiful,” he spouted sarcastically.
“What does he teach you over there?”
He yelled out the names of four of his own students,
told us to hand over the chalk to them.
I sat down trembling and amazed as these four disciples
circled all the prime numbers without hesitation.
I could see no reason why any of those numbers were called prime.
My math education did not improve from that point on.
It wasn’t until I was 26 years old, sitting in an algebra night class,
that I learned from a very kind teacher what prime numbers were.
The explanation was so simple: a number that could only be divided by itself and one.
I sat there amazed by this brief description,
remembered how cruel that 6th-grade teacher had been,
and how he’d not been teacher enough
to take 30 seconds to tell us what prime numbers were.