An open letter to any student who feels “lagged” in math
Eight years ago, I started this blog with a denominational essay called How It Feels to Be Bad at Math. Eight years later, people are still stumbling over it. The comment area has become a record of their struggles, a guest book in the Historic Home of Feeling Stupid, full of heartbreaking signatures.
The other day a student named Madelaine wrote:
I feel really awful now. Last year I dropped Precal and used math to learn the basics because I was so scared of failing math. This year I overcame my fear and am currently taking the course I dropped out last year (Grade 10 Precal / Applied) but it’s really hard. At that moment, I fail the class by 2%. I avoided a major test of the entire unit and is struggling to get through.
Here is the part that bothered me the most:
I’m currently in 11th grade and I’m taking a 10th grade math class! It’s very embarrassing but at the end of the day I know I have to take it sooner rather than later.
For them, it’s so simple that it hardly needs to be said.
Eleventh grade students.
Grade ten math.
I almost forgot what it is like to be this old when a year turns this big.
I am currently what archaeologists refer to as “the aged father”. At my age, like most age groups, it doesn’t matter how old you are. I have professional role models in my 20s. I have friends in their 60s. The students I taught when I was 22 are currently 25. They are older than they were then; I could buy you a beer.
(By the way, OCHS graduates, I’ll do it! The first round is up to me! Seriously, get in touch!)
A year is nothing. It’s a dozen flaps of a hummingbird’s wing. There is no reason to care if someone was born in 2005 or 2006 other than that the education system is a huge bureaucracy with a limited number of desks. So we draw lines on the calendar and summarize children who lie between the same pairs of lines – regardless of their passions, struggles, values or experiences in this world.
You are not “behind” Madelaine. That’s just the label our school system anti-farm put on your back. You learn. That’s what matters. You do a hard thing and doing hard things is as we grow.
Lastly, and most importantly, ask for the help you need. It is our job as adults to prepare you to thrive in the world and to help you become the person you want to be. Mathematics class is only one step on this path. Too often it is a nasty step that trips people and sheds many knees. But do you know what that means? There are many people out there who have felt this pain and many more who want to help you avoid or overcome it.
If you are reading this, Madelaine or anyone else, I believe in you.
To be fair, I don’t know you personally. So if you’re an ax murderer or just an aspiring ax murderer, then I do Not believe in you. Please change your career.
But for the rest of you, I believe in you. I know that people are capable of great things, even (and maybe especially) when they don’t believe it themselves.
Forget “behind”. Keep it up. You will get where you are going.