I don’t remember having a math tutor in high school.
In junior high I was in a higher-level math program. Back then that meant pre-algebra in seventh grade, then algebra I in eighth, geometry in ninth, and algebra II in tenth. Then you took trig and pre-calc in eleventh, and calculus in twelfth.
I started struggling in ninth. Everybody said that geometry would be easy – after all, it’s just shapes. But geometric proofs boggled my mind, and I squeaked by with a C on my report card.
Then came Algebra II.
The teacher was a stern man who intimidated me. He taught very fast and from the beginning I couldn’t keep up. I remember asking for help, but not really understanding. I was too scared of him and embarrassed to admit it. I felt so dumb.
Homework was a nightmare. I sat at the kitchen table with my dad, who was good in math, having studied engineering. He knew what he was doing, but I couldn’t be taught. Every homework session ended with me in tears.
I trudged along in class, hating it, hating the teacher, hating myself for being so stupid. I knew I didn’t belong in the class but hoped that one day the information would click.
It never clicked. Eventually I stopped asking for help.
And I failed every test.
I was on my way to earning an F on my report card. The rest of my grades were As and Bs.
My parents intervened, something that never happened in school before. They met with teachers and counselors and arranged it so I would audit the class – stay in class and do the homework and tests but receive no grade. I would also retake Algebra II the next school year under a different teacher. Relief.
They hired a tutor to help me. In a conversation I had with my parents years later, they mentioned a name I didn’t recognize. When I admitted that I didn’t know who they were talking about, my mom was surprised that I didn’t remember my math tutor. How I remember something that happened when I was four but not when I was 15 and struggling in Algebra mystifies me.
In eleventh grade, I aced Algebra II. I went on to do okay in trig and pre-calc in twelfth. As a psychology student in college and grad school I feared math, taking only the basic requirements. The math of psychology is statistics. I made a habit of torturing my stats professor by saying “I hate statistics” when I went to him for help. Later in my job I spent the bulk of every work day analyzing statistics.
I’ve long let go of my animosity toward math. I’ve relearned a lot of what I had forgotten by helping my kids with their math homework. I found that although it's still not my strongest subject, I really am not hopeless at it. I even use Algebra when my son asks me to help him with his homework. It isn’t often, because our study sessions end poorly, just like the ones I had with my dad.
This post inspired by:
Prompt 5: Your least favorite subject in school.