March 30, 2011

Confessions of a "Good" Student

I've always been a good student - label it how you will. I study hard, get good grades, blah, blah, blah. And I don't really know if I'm a good student because I get good grades or if I get good grades because I'm a good student. It's one of those circular, chicken and the egg type arguments. At any rate, I was labeled from an early age, along with many of my friends, and we traveled in a pack through all the advanced classes our school district had to offer. Well, except for the time I boycotted sophomore AP English because I heard it was "too hard." After a week of SSR (silent sustained reading) in "regular" English, I'd had it. I marched down to the guidance counselor and respectfully requested my original slot in the AP class - crisis averted. I then happily (well, as happily as any normal teenager can) continued my journey towards high school graduation.

But there came one final crossroad (crossroads? See how much that AP class helped me?) before I graduated...Calculus. Me and my pack (grammar error noted) had moved together through all the advanced math classes from 7th grade on, and then Calculus reared its ugly head at us. It wasn't the subject matter that daunted us, but rather, the instructor. He was a known alcoholic. I knew a little more about the situation than I wanted to because he was our neighbor, three doors down, and I had spent much of my childhood around him. I knew it wasn't a rumor. I also knew he was very smart. However, I had no intention of marring my academic career (translation = grade point average) by taking Calculus from someone I did not trust to actually teach it to me. So I did what every grade point average loving, crazy, "good" student would do: I bailed and was a T.A. for the band director instead. Bright move.

But wait, there's more! I gained early acceptance to PLU (Pacific Lutheran University for those of you not from the PNW) my senior year and then sat back and watched everyone else scramble as they waited to apply during the normally prescribed time. I thought I had it made, was in the clear. And then PLU did something I never thought they would do; they sent me a math placement test. It had been a year since I'd been in a math class but I figured I could easily pass the test. After all, I was a "good" student. And even though the test was accompanied by a letter strongly encouraging a review with a math teacher, I ignored it. One afternoon, on a whim, I grabbed that math placement test and took it with no review, mailed it back to PLU and waited. When I finally received my fall schedule guess which math class I was placed in? Remedial Algebra, a 2 credit class. Dammit. I was crushed and I don't think I've ever told any of my friends this story, the same friends from my "pack" of "good" students - probably because I was ashamed.

I bounced back. Within a month, my professor could not understand why I was in a remedial class and waived the following 2 credit class, allowing me to go straight into Business Calculus, a 4 credit class. I would leave PLU with 2 more math credits than I needed, but also with a very important lesson learned - not to let my ego get in the way of what was best for me. I did very well in both classes, with the exception of functions, which I don't think I'll ever wrap my brain around (Thanks, Jen, for getting me through that topic.), and I graduated college, which is the main goal, really. Right? And guess what kids? You really do use Algebra when you grow up, but that's a discussion for another time.

Here's the thing, I just turned 40 and I still have nightmares about not taking that high school Calculus class. It is one of my biggest regrets and it drives me batty. My subconscious cannot seem to get past the fact that I did take a Calculus class in college. Guilt? Probably. So I've made a decision; when I finish at the Art Institute next year I am going to take a Calculus class at a local community college so I can close this crazy loop. And this time I know I will need some review before I take the plunge. I have a few things going for me: 1) I live with a math wizzard and 2) I'm a "good" student. That should help, right?


Anonymous said...

I love your stories! And I think we experienced parallel universe stuff in the honors-classes-through-HS department. You can totally do the math. Funny thing is that calculus is generally considered to be more understandable for mature brains... Like ours, right?


Merry said...

I made it my goal to make as many substitutions as necessary to avoid taking a math class in college (yes, I went to a real university - I was just very clever at outwitting authority). Then, wouldn't you know, I had to pick up 6 units of "anything" the summer before my senior year to have enough units to graduate and the only classes open were music and math 101. I was (am) a "good" student and it didn't bother me because it is my theory that most of us are either "word people" or "numbers people" and I choose words. I still count on my fingers.

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