I have never been good at math. Struggled all the way through school and resigned myself to the idea that I would never do well in it. Failed Introduction to Algebra Part I. Twice. Never stepped foot into the Math Lab at school because I was too embarrassed to admit that I needed help with math. The only A I ever received was in Business Math, and to this day I think it was largely because the teacher liked me and saw that I put forth real effort. Despite that success, I never took a math past my junior year in high school.
The irony of this choice is that I have used math ever since. Regularly. In all of the jobs I’ve had — marketing, retail, tech support — I’ve used math. And I’ve actually used more math since I’ve become a stay-at-home-mom than I ever did before. Adding and subtracting fractions, maintaining a budget, reconciling checkbooks, figuring gains/losses on investments, cost per pound, figuring the payroll and taxes for a small non-profit business; you name it, I use it on a regular basis. Fundamentals like this are not bad, but when the subject turns to negative numbers, my brain turns to gelatin.
In my Composition, Psychology and Anatomy/Physiology courses, I was the Super Obnoxious Student; the one who reminded the teacher about our quizzes and kept track of just how ‘big’ of an A I was getting. I’m very proud that I worked hard and received the highest marks in both my Psych and A&P classes, and was in the top 5 of my English Comp class (RIP, Mr. Kassebaum). Words are easy for me; intuitive. It’s like there’s a small itch behind my eyeball that tells me when something isn’t quite right on the page.
I don’t have that same itch in math. Math gives me the distinct feeling of being set adrift on a small lake in a kayak without a paddle, where everyone else is standing on the shore watching me. Somehow they all seem to have located their paddles, whereas I’m the only one who just didn’t get one. And I’m too embarrassed to ask for someone to lend me theirs.
I have to pass MATH 1200 (Intermediate Algebra) in order to complete my prerequisites for nursing school. When I took the assessment test, I placed in MATH 950 (Beginning Algebra I). Which means I have to study my arse off, score high enough, and beg the instructor to place me in 1200. I don’t see him doing that unless I achieve an A.
I’m three weeks in, and the information thus far has been basic review (as the whiny d-bag who sat behind me on Saturday put it, ‘how come we gotta review all this stuff that we already learned in the fifth grade?’ with my response being, ‘if you’re so smart, how come you were placed in a remedial math?’), but already I sincerely doubt my ability to achieve an A.
In comparison to high school, this is substantially different. (I almost said ‘quantitatively different’ but I didn’t want to be that nerd.) First, I am paying for this course out of my own pocket, which changes the amount of effort I am putting into it. Second, I did something that I never have done before:
I went to the math lab.
This is a bigger step for me than you might think. I have a serious, deep-seated, almost pathological problem with admitting when I cannot do or handle something. Going to the math lab at the college required that I humble myself, admit that I need help, and go talk to someone who is 15 years younger than me and get some direction on the basics of Algebra. Not an easy feat for me.
One of the greatest benefits of this little adventure was finding out that the tutor (Lou, who I can already tell I will like very much), did not start out as a math major. In fact, he wanted to become a nurse. He hated math, always did poorly in high school, and never had an intuitive understanding of numbers. So he understands where I’m coming from and can help me to grasp concepts that are difficult.
So, although I know that this will be a struggle for me, I’m meeting this challenge head-on. I will put forth more effort than anyone else in my class, and I guarantee that I will not fail.