Thursday, January 26, 2017

My Failures as a Math Student

So of course after I posted my week 4 post for the MTBoS Blogsplosion blogging initiative, I thought of some more failures of mine, only this time not as a math teacher, but as a math student.

Failing One of My HS Math Regents Exams
Growing up, I was a fairly good student.  My parents always emphasized the importance of getting a good education and I got good grades pretty easily.  It was right around 8th grade, when all of a sudden, these good grades I was getting started to slip, particularly in math.  That was also the year that I wasn't just taking 8th grade math, but also 9th grade (Sequential 1) math after school.  For the first time in my life, math wasn't coming easily to me anymore.  But I get through it, and did well on the Sequential 1 Regents that June, which meant that in high school, I would be taking all freshman classes, except for math, where I would be a year ahead.

My failure came in my second year of high school, when I was taking Sequential 3 (again a sophomore taking a Junior year math class) and I got lazy.  I wouldn't say my behavior wasn't typical.  I was a sophomore in high school whose priorities wasn't really school.  Also, by now, I had gotten used to math just not really making sense, so why put in the extra effort for something I just wasn't going to ever understand (or need)?  And that June, I failed the only Regents I would ever fail... Sequential 3.  And it broke my heart.  That was definitely a wake up call.  All my friends would more on to pre-calculus the following year, but I might not.  Luckily, I was able to get into pre-calc with the expectation that I would take the Sequential 3 Regents the following January.  And boy did I put in work for it.  I don't remember what I got on it, but I passed and I had learned my lesson.

Failing the Math Content Praxis
I continued to struggle with math in high school and college, which just always meant that I had to put more work into it than other subjects.  Even in college, being a psychology and sociology major, I ended up taking math and science classes all four years in college because I wanted a Bachelor of Science, not a Bachelor of Arts.  I even took classes that were part of the math major sequence.  But I got through it.  The irony of all of this is that at the end of college I would be accepted into the NYC Teaching Fellows, as... you guessed it, a math teacher.  I was able to pass all my certification exams (including math) easily and I became a certified 7th - 12th grade math teacher.

Last year, I was introduced and fell in love with Math for America.  From the moment I went to their first open house, I knew I wanted to be a part of their organization.  So, I applied.  Being a middle school math teacher and being certified 7th - 12th grade, that meant I had to take the Math Content Praxis Exam, which I hadn't ever taken, since NYC uses another exam for teacher certification.  Every free moment last Spring was spent studying number and quantity, algebra, functions, calculus, geometry, probability, statistics, and discrete mathematics.  I even got in touch with my old math tutor from college to work with me for a few sessions.  And I failed.  My heart was once again broken because I wanted to get in so badly, and wasn't going to be able to because of a math test.  I was a failure.  Luckily, I still had a small window to take he test again before the application was due.  So, again I went back to immersing myself in all of it, and went in, still feeling shaky, but knowing that I was giving it my best shot.

The day of the test, I felt more confident with my answers.  I paced myself better, and when I didn't get a preliminary score at the end (it's a computerized test) felt good that at least I hadn't already failed.  Sure enough, a few weeks later I got my score, and I had passed.  And damn, it felt good.

Both of these experiences stay with me because they are both living proof that I am a tough cookie when it comes to mathematics.  They also make me sensitive to the students who may be sitting in my classroom who feel like failures themselves sometimes, or simply have a hard time passing a test.  I wanted to share these experiences because the best math teachers are also math learners, and sometimes that comes with failure.  But that's OK.  I am always mindful that if I had let my early failures in math shut me down, I would, quite literally, not be where I am today.

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