On Failing Math

The room was quite and still but I felt nauseous and overheated.

Silence crept in as the math-loving, Russian, math lady handed out our final exams. I can’t even call her a teacher because she didn’t do a very good job teaching me anything all semester. But there I sat trying to will any form of math knowledge back into my brain for one more test.

Looking over the stiff white pages it all looked like an extraterrestrial language to me. I had no comprehension of the material. Twenty-five multiple choice and five show-you-work questions made up this comprehensive final exam. Still, this was going to be no small task. After sixteen weeks of studying, homework, and extra help I felt no better than the first day I walked into this class.

Nine years removed from high school, countless major changes, and an extended period away from college – last winter I finally decided to resume classes and finish my Bachelors. However, one set of classes still remained blank on my graduation checklist. No matter which major I ended up with, I needed to get through math before getting to graduation.

Numbers are my enemy but this summer I reluctantly signed up for the first of my 3 battles: Intermediate Algebra. This class doesn’t even count towards my math requirement – it’s simply an elective to prepare me for the real thing. Intermediate Algebra is to College Algebra and Statistics as the Boston Tea Party is to the American Revolution.

I’ve got a long fight ahead of me if I am going to come out the other side victorious.

The math final laid out before me was the last test for this class, but I knew it was only the beginning of what was yet to come.

Twenty minutes had passed without me marking a single answer on the test sheet. Aside from my name it was a clean sheet of paper. I had to focus on my breathing just to make sure I didn’t puke right there. I am almost certain that wasn’t the answer the Russian lady was looking for.

Half the time I was focused on a math problem or my breathing  but the other half of the time was spent feeling like a failure. Two hours were allotted for this final and I used all but five minutes or so. As I choked back my tears I circled the final answer on the test, gathered my things, and walked to the front of the classroom.

The Russian lady posted our grades online later that afternoon. I braced myself for a bad, most likely a failing grade. Can you imagine the horrors running through my thoughts when I saw a 30% listed for my final exam?

Without looking at my final cumulative grade in the class I threw in my non-existent towel. Math haunted me all my life. Even as a solid A/B student, I passed high school math by the skin of my teeth. How would I even pass two more college math classes with at least a C average so I could graduate? I was face to face with the impossible.

That moment, with anger pulsing through my body and tears rushing down my face, I gave up on school. Gave up on a Bachelors and Masters degree. I gave up on any hope of ever passing math. Math has all the power. Math is the death of my educational career.

Math has won.


7 thoughts on “On Failing Math

  1. Sarah Nowlin

    No it hasn’t.. It’s just won this victory.. but you can still win the “battle”.. There has got to be a teacher out there that will help you with your issues with Math.. I took Anatomy 6 times before I found a teacher that taught in a way that reached my Science stupid mind..

    You can do this! Take a break, and get back into school.. YOU CAN DO THIS!!

  2. Megan Lundberg (@megsterski)

    Math won’t win the war. Sure, numbers may beat you in battles, but your will to win the big war is much more powerful. I had to take several classes over in college: finance, chemistry, accounting, microeconomics (I don’t like number either, obviously). It sucked, and I ended up spending more money on school than I had planned, but it happens. You’re not the first one to fail a math class, and you won’t be the only one. I promise.

    Stick with it, and show it who’s boss!

  3. Josh Young

    Math never wins the war, when it’s dictated on your terms. It appears that you’ve struggled to get back into the thick of it after being out of some heavy maths for a while.
    I can tell you honestly that it’s difficult, at the beginning. I spent the best part of the last year tutoring a 35yr old high school mathematics, and he struggled. But, he persisted, and he’s done really well to pass the subject (he gets his results in about 6 hours).

    Everyone fails with math at some point or another. I’ve had experiences where I’ve done really, really badly in maths, and others where I’ve managed to do a wonderful job after working like a madman. You will get there, it just takes persistence.

    Whatever you do, DON’T GIVE UP! You can beat maths. 🙂
    Plus, if you ever need math help, feel free to drop by my site. I’d be happy to help, 🙂

  4. Bella

    I agree with the others, math hasn’t won. You’re feeling badly, and rightly so, but math only wins if you give up. I don’t know what your major is, but when I was getting my BA in English Lit, I failed statistics only to discover a class called Math for Liberal Arts (aka Math for Dummies). It was more if a history of math, from the zero with the Mayans on through to the architecture of today. Check and see if something like that is available. If not, hire a tutor and take the classes that count. Maybe go to a local junior college to take the course; it will be cheaper, and often high school teachers earn extra money picking up classes. Several of my colleagues do. That way, you’re getting a teacher who knows how to explain things, rather than someone so steeped in her own tenure track that she could care less if you understand.
    I abhor math, so I feel your pain, but you WILL get through this.

  5. Amy @ Destroyingdeadends

    Ok lady. Here’s the deal. I got my undergrad in math. I was not an A student like so many of my classmates. I even retook two classes, calc I and Calc 2 because I needed higher grades in those classes to graduate. I took those classes the first time with a prof that I just couldn’t understand. The second time around I was lucky to find a prof that had taught high school math and knew how to explain things five different ways so that his students would understand the concepts. I took his Chaos Theory class later in my college career and was in his office multiple times on the brink of crying and he still hot me through it. You need to find a prof that matches with your learning style. It will make math less daunting. I have so much to say with my adventures in math and why I chose it for my degree. My dad laughs at me, in a good way, for why I chose it. But that’s another story. Another thing you may look to do is find a student there that is studying to become a math teacher. They usually have the patience and knowledge to help you where your prof may not. Let my know if you need any more math advice.

  6. Pingback: Scratch That! Work Shopping 2012 | Coffee With Sabrina

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