One day last fall, my pre-calc teacher decided to deviate from her lesson plan and ask us about our career goals, assuming that she would be able to relate all of them back to math. She told my class to raise their hand if one of the career paths she listed was what they wanted to pursue. After she asked who wanted to be an architect, an engineer or a math teacher, I was the only person in the room who hadn’t raised their hand. Glaring at me, she asked me that ancient question to which adolescents must always have an answer:
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
“I want to produce my own TV show or write movie scripts,” I responded. (Good luck relating that to calculus)
“Hmmm,” she said, trying to link my type B aspirations to her type A occupation. Then, just when I thought I had stumped her, she generated a zinger worthy of being delivered to such a disgrace to humanity as myself. “Well, there is a technical side to television, so at least you’ll be working with smart people.”
After my pre-calculus teacher insulted my intelligence in front of 30 of my peers that day, I decided to prove her wrong. Obviously, I wasn’t bad at math. Sure, I had a B, but I just must not have been trying hard enough … Yeah. That was it. I just wasn’t applying myself as much as I should have been. And so, I began applying myself and applying myself and applying myself, and it didn’t work. I ended the semester with my very first B of my entire school career. I immediately blamed my teacher. The next semester, I got another B in the class with a different teacher, and I blamed that teacher too. Honestly, I think crediting my teachers with causing me to do poorly in pre-calculus last year isn’t completely ridiculous. I eventually quit coming in for help after school because my teachers both first and second semester were incredibly condescending when I didn’t understand or remember what they deemed “basic” ideas or “stuff you should have learned in Algebra 1.” I had to struggle through the class on my own, and all the while, their comic sans font power points mocked my tribulations.
Fast forward past my summer spent studying for ACT and SAT math sections, and I’m in AP Calculus AB. I got a D on the first quiz of the year. I got a B- on my first test. I got a C- on my second test. Ninety percent of my grade in Calculus is tests. I can’t blame my teacher. When I go to math tutoring after school on Mondays and Tuesdays, she is willing to walk me through the “simple” algebra that I need for calculus and then the calculus after I sort of “master” the “easy” stuff.
For the first time in my life, I’ve been forced to face the fact that even though I study hard and get extra help, I still can’t do well in math. It’s a weird feeling. I don’t think that I’m particularly smart, but I really used to believe that if I gave 100 percent effort, I could turn out at least an A-, regardless of the class. I was a perfectionist. Actually, I still am a perfectionist. Every B, C and D that I receive in Calculus is a swift, hard backhanded face smack to my self worth, but I’m slowly learning to accept my inadequacies. Even though my friends remind me that the calc test on Friday will be “easy,” and even though I can skate by in AP US History, Advanced American Literature, Spanish 3 and AP Environmental Science, I know that my brain literally isn’t capable of processing derivatives and limits. Gradually, I am learning to accept this recent epiphany. I have resolved to continue giving 100 percent and stop beating myself up about the outcome.