The Day I Met Algebra

I work with children. Helping out with homework is part of the job description. I’m fine with most of it…until I hit math. Something about 4th and 5th grade math makes me uneasy. I’m constantly unsure of myself. We’re supposed to check behind the children and make sure the problems are done correctly.

It’s not the kids’ fault that I’m uneasy in math. It’s algebra’s fault.

Once upon a time, I was great in math. I was home schooled for the majority of my grade school years. I went to a private school for part of second and third grade, then returned to North Carolina and went back to our previous curriculum. We discovered that I was a grade ahead in math, since our curriculum took an entire grade to teach the times tables. This lasted me until I reached long division, and that slowed me back down to my actual grade. But I eventually understood the concept, and I was good with math.

Then I met algebra. 9th grade math began with introducing me to the letter X and its evil little cousins, Y and Z. Though the curriculum didn’t change, they just presented the information in a way that I DID NOT get. As we did with everything we did not understand, I turned to my teacher to help me through the difficult part – my dad. Daddy did his best. But he’s a guy, and did not really get how to teach me as a girl to understand what was not clicking. He tried. But it didn’t work. Over and over and over again, we went through the lessons. Over and over and over again, I tried my best. Over and over and over again, it did not click.

Had I been in public schools, I would have failed. The class would have moved ahead, grasping the general concepts and learning to do more complicated problems. Having missed a few of the most basic principles, I would have been hopelessly, utterly, lost.

But I was not in public schools. I was home schooled, and working on the ACE curriculum. Though I have issues with how they present certain things to their students, the way their lessons are set up are literally the only way that I ever learned how to do algebra. In the ACE world, any grade below an 80 is a failing grade. Any checkup (mini-test) or test that does not get this score means you have to take it over until you pass.

I was 16 before I learned that 80 was actually a decent grade. I did a lot of slacking off when I realized that.

But without that 80% threshold, I would have never understood algebra. I was forced to redo several checkups, but, thankfully, never had to retake an entire PACE again (a unit).

It did, eventually, click. I did learn to at least like algebra more than geometry. But I still don’t like algebra.

Sometimes you have to repeat things over and over until you get it. Don’t give up, since writing is constantly a struggle to get it right. The more you do with the concept, the closer you come to at least understanding it. Try not to develop a hatred over whatever it is you’re stumbling over. It will be there to greet you in the next story. Don’t let there be an algebra moment in your writing. Trust me, you’ll never forget it.

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