Math: A Lifelong Nemesis

Math is my least favorite subject. It is also the only academic discipline that I have had little interest in and found limited value in studying.  In school I learned only as much about math as was necessary to achieve passing scores on tests and to get to the next level.  During my senior year of undergraduate school I was informed by the registrar that I needed an additional upper-level math course to graduate. For a few moments after receiving the news, I became distraught because I thought my graduation would be delayed.  I had worked hard to complete the math, accounting, and economic courses my major required. So, when I applied for graduation I thought I was through with the formal study of mathematics. I was mistaken.

Luckily, I found a professor who graciously agreed to conduct an independent study that would satisfy the remaining math requirement. If I passed, I would graduate as planned.

I enrolled in the course; but, I was ill prepared for the rigor the course demanded. During that term I spent many an evening racking and taxing my brain to recall concepts and procedures I had previously memorized, practiced, and purposely forgotten, wrongfully thinking I would not need them again. Fortunately, I passed the course and graduated as planned.

The following September, during my first few weeks of graduate school a nonprofit organization was on campus recruiting volunteer tutors to work in an adult literacy program. I enthusiastically signed up. During the interview, the recruiter told me she needed a math tutor and explained why she thought I was the perfect candidate. I explained that I was mathematically challenged; but said I would gladly tutor any other subject. It was as though she hadn’t heard me. To my dismay the interviewer focused solely on trying to convince me that I was the right person for the math position.

Looking back, I don’t know why I didn’t just end the interview. I had nothing to lose. I wasn’t planning on remaining in the area after graduation; the position was unpaid; the work did not satisfy any academic requirement, and I was not interested in teaching math.  Yet, I sat through the interview like an obedient schoolgirl dutifully listening to an academic advisor extolling the benefits of majoring in Mathematics to an English Literature or Fine Arts major.   At the conclusion of the interview, I told the recruiter I would spend the weekend praying about whether to accept the position.  She thanked me and said she looked forward to hearing from me.

As promised, I prayed and sought legitimate reasons for refusing the position. I didn’t come up with a single one. So, the following week I told the recruiter I would tutor math. I also told her that she should not count on either me or the students experiencing much success. Secretly, I was hoping and praying that after a careful review of my transcripts and resume she would offer me a different position. Instead, she thanked me for my willingness to serve and told me where to pick up the material.

Shortly afterwards I began working with two women. One was preparing to take a national nurses examination. The other was studying for the General Educational Development (G.E.D.) test. I felt inept to tutor either. However, I delved into the material and outlined learning objectives and lesson plans. As I prepared for the challenge, I drew strength from meditating upon Philippians 4:13,   “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  Thankfully, I experienced relative success. The G.E.D. candidate passed the exam. The other woman stopped attending class a few weeks into the term (I don’t know why).

Subsequently, I taught math to adults only once. Later I became a Newark [New Jersey] Public Schools Teacher where for several years, among other subjects, I taught math to elementary and middle school students. February 1, 2014, I retired from teaching. I plan to have as little as possible to do with math. However, in light of my past experiences I’m not ruling out anything.

2 thoughts on “Math: A Lifelong Nemesis

  1. Great story! If I were afraid of math, I think I would be encouraged to be tutored by someone who didn’t like math but who overcame enough to be able to tutor me!

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