Friday, June 19, 2009

Friday, Calculus Quiz #1

This morning Calculus begins by going over some of the math homework and the first thing that happens is that I realize that I somehow missed the last part of the second-to-last problem. Oh, well. He's going over it on the board and I scramble to write my answer before he can write it on the board so that I'm still checking my work as I go. I don't want to upset anyone though, so I write next to it on the homework "done in class." That's how I roll.

True to form, Amine then launches into the next section of the Calculus book. We are blazing a trail through this book. I get that the summer classes are shorter than the other semesters, so they have to cover the material faster, but it's breathtaking, this pace. I keep writing notes, even when we get into sines and cosines and I have to admit we're getting sketchy. He asks a question about a trig function and I guess--I get it right.

I feel like all this math stuff--it's still in my head. It's still in the drawers where I originally filed it away 22 years ago, just waiting for the drawers to be opened again. But the labels are gone to the drawers and the first time I have to pull something out again--I'm not at all sure I have it right.

And sometimes I don't. Sometimes it's plain wrong.

I had hoped that by the end of the first week of Calculus I would feel a little less anxious about it all because I would know how it was going to go. I would have a feeling for whether or not I could do this.

But I don't. It's much worse. I'm thrown by finding the "harder" math class easier and the "easier" math class harder. (I think it's because the focus of the Linear Algebra class is soooo much more narrow.) I'm thrown by the completely unpredictable way the failures show up. I go along feeling pretty good for awhile and then get stuck at a negative exponent.

We're 20 minutes away from the end of class and Amine collects the homework and distributes the quiz. It's only worth 10 points. There are only two problems, but the first problem has three parts and the second problem has two parts. I pray that each PART is worth two points.

I hope so because I can't solve the second half of the second problem. I can't get the fraction to reduce properly. I keep ending up with a zero in the denominator--which COULD be the answer. The answer COULD be that the limit for this function does not exist. But my gut tells me that's just not the case. I work out different variations on simplifying the fraction on the back of the paper and I think if I'd had another 30-40 minutes, I would have stumbled across the operation that properly simplified the fraction. But I didn't. It was just a quiz. We weren't really being tested on the ability to simplify the function--we were trying to find the limit of the function. And I couldn't.

I wasn't the only one. Amine kept collecting papers, glancing at the last problem, and then offering the student the chance to go back and give it another shot. Most of them did try. I don't know how many figured it out. (I was still working on mine at this point.)

Frustrated. I waited till most of the other students left and then asked him to show me how to solve the problem. One of the other students did the same. Amine demonstrated on the board, and then went off to help another student. The one guy who watched the demonstration with me said, "Oh, jeez. Pre-algebra. I should have known that," and then he left. And I thought, "Pre-algrebra. Well, that was 1983 for me. So at least it's understandable that I might have forgotten that one." But it didn't immediately illuminate the result for me, that thought, and I stood there for another whole minute tracing through the steps of the problem over and over until the light bulb DID finally go on.

It will be sheer stubborness that wins this battle for me. I'm going to start including Amine in my prayers. "Dear God, please don't let this young man give up on me. Please help him to continue to know when I need a hint and please help me to continue to retain what I've learned and if at all possible, help me to remember a lot of the stuff I've forgotten. Please keep Amine healthy and help him stay rested and patient at 8 in the morning every weekday. Amen."

But I wasn't feeling very stubborn when I left class this morning. I was feeling defeated. The best I could hope for was 8 out of 10. AGAIN. (And then, when that wasn't enough, I beat myself up about not letting 8 out of 10 be enough for my first full-time semester back in school, but that wasn't successful. You know, you are what you are. I'm not happy with 8 out of 10.) And anyway, it could be worse. Maybe something else on that quiz was wrong, too.


I went to Matrices. I asked Allan from Scranton about problem #11 and we looked at it and discovered I'd made a wrong turn right out of the starting gate. My negative should have been a positive. From there the problem wound itself up like a small skein of handspun merino and I finished very pleased with myself. Which is good because it's nearly 9pm on a Friday night and I'm going to try to do the Linear Algebra homework before going to bed. There's no room left to shoe-horn it into tomorrow's schedule.

I still have to prepare a Relief Society lesson for Sunday, too. Hrm.

Anyway. Matrices sped by with a first lesson on vectors, which I kind of like. I like graphing vectors, actually. And Allan had lots of examples and lots of graphing and I was happy, taking notes, and drawing little arrows on cartesian planes in my graph-paper notebook.

And then class was over and I needed to get to the law office to take care of that file that I had neglected the day before. But once out of the Matrices classroom, I couldn't stop thinking of the Calculus quiz and wondering, you know, if it was EVER going to feel like it used to--like it was easy, and fun, and something I was just naturally good at.

Emotionally, I was stuck, and there was noone to distract me with talk about, say, what Bella Cullen might major in when she and Edward and Renesmee finally made it to Dartmouth. (Twilight series reference.) Something silly like that would have been a nice distraction.

I tried texting Chris, but he was WORKING (go figure) and I called Petco and apologized for missing Emily's grooming appointment (because it was this morning--and I had not only forgotten, but had forgotten ever having made the appointment. Maybe I should cut back on the Lorazepam.) and I called my mother, Judy, and told her she could come by this Sunday afternoon on her way through from Baltimore, because she'd left a message on my voicemail, probably about the time I was trying to figure out how to simplify that darn fraction. And then finally, I texted my sister--who started grad school in Spanish Literature last summer and is everybit as emotional about things as I am and who would totally understand why a person might get hysterical over the idea of having TWO 8 out of 10 quizzes in one week.

But I think it was 8 am in California AND I don't think they're out of school yet. I think she's still working (high school Spanish teacher).

So at this point in my trek back to the law office I was passing through the Greyhound station and there were some benches. So I sat and closed my eyes and talked to God again, the only Diety who seemed to be home to talk to at this point, and I came away feeling much the same as I did last night. That I don't get to peek at the back of the book for this one. It will turn out however it turns out. My job is to show up each day and take notes and think as hard as I can about all of it and work as carefully as possible on the quizzes, and just. trust. Him.

(And some people walked by, but none of them said a thing or put quarters in my hand or anything, so maybe I looked normal, meditating on the Greyhound Station bench.)

And then I got up and walked to the law office and worked until 2:30. I mailed my Dad his Father's Day card (he should have it in time for his birthday in September) and I drove to Grandma Gaye's house and picked up her and Ben and Milo and we did some shopping at Target and the grocery store. Once back home I made dinner and tried to tell Chris about the quiz and Amine-the-instructor and fixing problem #11 in Matrices. And he told me about work and did a load of dishes while I shucked corn and then the four of us ate. (Max is at camp.)

Now I've spent two hours blogging about the week. I don't know if that was productive or not, but I think I'll keep it up for as long as that feels helpful. I don't know if it's been clear, but there are no classes I want to drop. I really enjoyed the Vygotsky reading from EdPsych this week (just not the obscurely written quiz that went with it) and most of the time when I'm actually working on a math problem--that's what I want to be doing. It sure beats laundry.

If I could just get past the overwhelming panic I feel when I consider the possibility--and I do it all freakin' day long--that I'm not going to get A's in any of these classes, I think I could be really happy doing what I'm doing. I just have a very, very, very deep-seated belief that there are really only two grades in college-level work. An "A" and a "not-A". And as my 3.78 undergrad GPA will tell you, I'm cool with the occasional "not-A." But the possibility of getting straight not-A's--maybe even a not-even-a-B in one of the classes--well, that's what's driving this feeling like I can't breath, and I can't sleep. (Maybe if I couldn't eat, that wouldn't be so bad. But so far that hasn't been a side-effect.)

It seems incredible to me that God would send me back to school at this point in life JUST to work on my humility issues (although I'm open to the fact that it's an important side trip for Him), because I don't think He'd pick something so incredibly expensive for just that lesson. Honestly, just throwing me in a tennis game--or any public sport--would have the same effect. But I do think that in the middle of all the forgotten algebra--that angle will be part of it. And while I have ALWAYS taken the position that a child struggling in school is just an opportunity to get to know him/her better while we solve that problem, it hasn't escaped me that I'm getting a LOT more insight into just how confusing it feels while it's happening to you.

It's no fun wondering if you're the only one who didn't get what the instructor just told the class, wondering if you should raise your hand and ask because maybe you're NOT the only one, wondering if you should raise your hand and ask because you're paying too much for the class to NOT GET IT even if you ARE the only one, and then wondering if the moment has passed because Amine's pause was very short and you just spent it wondering whether or not to raise your hand.

And now I'm going to put my 7-yr-olds to bed (because I *totally* know how to do that) and then I'm going to do some vector problems, because that is what I am doing this summer.

(You truly must love me if you have made it through all of this week's rambling posts. Sorry 'bout that.)


Sarah said...

I actually did read the whole thing! And I still love you! Just remember so long as you are doing the very best you can God will bless you.

You are a different person now than you were when you were in college. there are other things occupying your time and energy. An 8/10 is great, not perfect but who needs to be. Let up on a little of the pressure you have put on yourself.

Ask for help. You may need to go into your teacher's office hours or ask someone else in class for a little refresher. There's nothing wrong with that. Once to "get it" you'll be fine. Until you get it you're going to struggle a bit. Get the help you need early.

Believe that you can do it! You know as well as I do that believing that you can do it makes a difference. Repeat it out loud before and while you're doing your homework. "I CAN DO THIS!" When I repeat that over and over again I do it every time. Now I've never actually done that with homework, but it works with everything. Pray to find the right person to help you. And continue to pray for your teacher.

You know as well as I do that the student that is there asking questions or going to office hours asking questions and for help is the one who is going to get it. AND since the teacher knows that you are doing your best (and not just being lazy) he is going to give you the benefit of the doubt.

This smarts a little of a letter you sent me my freshman year in college. That makes me laugh! :)

God believes in you. If He didn't he wouldn't have taken you this far. Now believe in yourself!

ps you could have called me! But God probably had better answers!

GHS68 said...

I am doing some Blog surfing tonight and saw Chris' Jan entry about about waiting to here from Penn State, and then I see yours and you are in school. Wow! We really don't keep in touch.
I went back to school when Aaron and Becca were 6 and 3 rescpectively. I wanted to become a music therapist, but I had no music on the college level, so I had to begin by completing 3 years of nder grad music classes to even qualify for the therapy program.
My grades were rusty. I was competing with music prodegies who had been study theory and aural training since grade school. They recognized and cold name calssical music, whereas I recognized it and could tell you which cartoon it had come from.
God has set you on a journey. It will be fun, challenging, terrifying, and at time quite disappointing. Through it all God will be with you, encouraging you, firing the mental synapsis when they fail you, miraculously giving you energy when you need it, etc.
May God richly bless you in this new adventure.