Thursday, February 27, 2014

Math Whiz

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. 

With me in tears.




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This post inspired by:

Mama’s Losin’ It

Prompt 5:  Your least favorite subject in school.

31 comments:

  1. Math and I, we're old enemies. I think people say that you're either good at languages or at math, and for me it was (and is) definitely languages... I got by with a decent grade, but once I was done I never looked back and now a calculator is my best friend :)

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    1. Oh, how I hear you on that. I was also good at languages. I only wish I'd kept up on learning more of them.

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  2. For us, it was algebra 8th, geometry 9th, trig 10th, pre-calc 11th and calc 12th. I'm pretty sure anyway. I was only good during the years I liked my teachers, but I never really liked math all that much. I just got by, the same way I did in science.

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    1. Same here. When I felt a connection with my teacher, I did better, too. Science was the same way. In college I always tried to take the easy science classes, and I always got a C. It was a good day when I didn't have to take any more science or math classes.

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  3. The head of the math department of my high school famously told me "I give up" as he was trying his best to teach me Algebra. When I say it didn't click, I am serious, it never clicked. I'm trying not to let my kids know that math isn't my thing, but I think they just know because they never even ask me for help with their math homework. :)

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    1. That is a funny story, Angela! I'm sure my dad spoke those very words to me once or twice at the kitchen table. My son doesn't ask me for much help with Algebra, either.

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  4. I too was in advanced math and came to a crashing halt with the year of geometry. Somehow, I just couldn't wrap my brain around it and the fact that I hated the teacher didn't help. Everything else I could do (including algebra) but geometry kicked my ass!

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    1. What is it with unlikable math teachers? Is it a prerequisite to be stern and imposing?

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  5. I've always been pretty good at math but TERRIBLE at statistics. I, also, hate stats.

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    1. I see statistics as such a fragile system that I don't even give them a moment's notice when I see them in the real world. After all I've learned about how statistics are computed, I know that they can be thrown off by a fraction and are easily tweaked. At least that's what my feeble math-brain tells me.

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  6. I find it interesting and rather telling that those of us who have chosen to write about their nemesis subject seem to have chosen MATH...the anti-christ in numerical form.
    As writers we use the side of our brain that is emotional and empathetic...we do well with languages and arts and creativity... while those you use that other side are the analytical and practical ones who do well in math and sciences and computer/cyber technology fields...

    So, I will continue to let them do their number crunching and 1.0.1.0. computer language that is just random numbers on a screen to me...and I will continue to feed my soul and my creative side by writing... and reading the offerings of other writers with a mutual hatred for math...

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    1. So funny! I wish that I was a natural at both. I appreciate the certainty of math, but the free-flowing uncertainty of creativity draws me in.

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    2. I find it HILARIOUS that my job centers around math and numbers these days. I am a pricing and contracting analyst.

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    3. Isn't that how it is? I hated statistics, but I knew them. Of course when my boss found out, I ended up doing a lot of data analysis.

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  7. Math was so hard for me. And now, we are advancing out kids so quickly, I fear my daughter will get left in the dust and I won't be able to help her. Jack found math easy-peasy, as does Tim.

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    1. The internet is a wonderful resource. YouTube and the Khan Academy are our good friends. :)

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  8. Math and I have a WEIRD relationship.
    I was fine until 6th grade. Then I started getting C's. I lost my confidence. Those C's turned to D's in later years. Finally in 12 grade, I scraped by with a B- because I had a great teacher.
    When it came time for math placement exams for college, I did so well that I placed out of math. I mean, I never had to take it in college or since.
    Weird!
    I guess I knew it after all but it became a head game for me.

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    1. That is strange!

      I tested out of languages in college, having spent a month in France right before I took my placement exam. I wish I had taken more languages, though.

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  9. Ugh. Math. There are some subjects that people are able to learn, kind of in spite of themselves, then there are subjects where the teacher makes ALL the difference. I had an amazing Algebra I teacher, and it set the foundation for my high school math career (because it certainly didn't go much past that).

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    1. I had good teachers the rest of my high school math career, too - it makes all the difference! But college was a crap-shoot. I took finite math, and it was so foreign to me. Plus the teacher was a heavily tattooed man who wore shorts and old t-shirts to class, which was distracting. I barely scraped by.

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  10. Oh gosh I totally sucked at Math in high school. I was (am still) really good at basic math, I can do math in my head (subtract, divide, add, minus), but trig and calculus? Ugh.

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    1. I have to say that I remember nothing from trig and pre-calc. Absolutely nothing. All I remember about pre-calc was that our teacher was just out of college and incredibly hot and one of my best friends sucker-kissed him on our class trip.

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  11. Your parents did so much to help you. What a wonderful solution to your situation.

    Geometry was impossible for me. I was hopeless in proofs and circles and my brain did not get along. Although my test scores were still low, miraculously my grade at the end of the quarter was an A. I think the fact that we talked running nearly every day was the reason behind that gift. Fortunately we eventually moved on to triangles, which did play well with my brain. Then I started to earn the grades I'd been given.

    I wish I would have had a parent who would have helped with homework. I never had one ask about my homework much less assist me with it. I don't think their math skills were strong enough to teach me.

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    1. My parents were very hands-off with homework, as were most parents back then. These days we are all too involved in what are kids are doing in school. Although the schools kind of expect parents to be.

      I had never heard of auditing a class before, so when my mom suggested it to me, I was flabbergasted. I wanted to do that with a few others as well. It sure did take the pressure off.

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  12. I can so relate. I loved math in Jr. High. I got it and was excited to move on. Then high school... much the same experience as you. I lost it and never thought I'd get it back. College was a challenge. I barely got through the required math classes for my major... but I did! And, I never want to look back! On the other hand, my youngest daughter was the Math Queen all through high school and college... I don't know where she got that from!

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    1. I can only hope that our kids will do well in math! So far, so good. I do a lot of talking up Math as the best, most interesting subject in the world. That's all I can do for them. :)

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  13. I do not love math and it was definitely my worst subject. But I have discovered that I do remember some things - which actually surprises me considering how much I seemed to struggle with it in school.

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    1. Maybe you were subconsciously afraid that you'd have to relearn it if you didn't get it the first time around?

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  14. You probably blocked out that year in math because it was so traumatizing! Here's hoping we don't have to spend our evenings hunched over homework with crying kids...I don't know if I can handle that!

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    1. The trauma of it is exactly what I think happened. So far we've had some tears, but it's not an every night thing. So far. :)

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  15. Ah, math...my great love-hate relationship of all time. I did fine when I could focus, but if I lost that and missed a concept or an explanation or something, I would get frustrated and just give up. Eventually I convinced myself that I was terrible at math, but the truth is I'm not. I never was. Turns out I had ADHD - big time - but nobody knew it then, least of all me. I finally made my peace and redeemed myself with math by passing stats in college - that took a whole lot of effort and two different tutors. Then, like a glutton for punishment, I took an advanced stats in grad school partly because it wasn't exactly a choice - I needed it for the research branch of my degree program. Aced that baby - again, with a whole lot of effort and the Hub for a tutor. I'm so glad I really worked at it, though, because a HUGE part of my comp finals were statistics - of all things. My prayer for Zilla is that she doesn't find the opportunity to convince herself she's bad at it like I did.

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