Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Giving up, giving in, or retreating for now. How Algebra is kicking my a$$.


I went back to school last August. I incurred a mountain of student loan debt and was ready to finish my degree so I could finally teach. Things were going great, even if fast track online classes were making my head spin. Then came the class I have been avoiding for years. The class that is holding me back from finishing school. ALGEBRA.  I. HATE. IT. I do not understand anything beyond the very base level problems that require me to "Solve for x". What's worse,  I seem to be able to learn math skills,and have a low level of confidence,  and suddenly the information is just gone. POOF. Like it never existed. What in the hell is THAT about?

I thought it was just "math anxiety" which is a very real thing. Researchers at the University of Chicago  found that for people who get anxious at the idea of doing mathematics, just preparing to do a math problem can trigger activity in a part of your brain that registers physical pain. NO SHIT!!  When the subjects were asked to prepare to do a math problem, they showed significant activity in the posterior insula, an area deep in the brain that is associated with responding to threats and experiencing pain.

Yeah, that sounds about right. As a matter of fact, laying my hand on a hot stove burner is right up there on the list of "Things I Would Rather Do Than Math"  that, and stabbing myself in the eye with a pencil. Just thinking about this is giving me a math headache right now.

Where did that 0 come from?
I didn't do well with Algebra in high school, and now many, many years later- it is a million to the tenth power times worse. My brain seriously does not think in "theoretical" terms. Much like my son on the autism spectrum, I deal in concrete terms. If you give me a math problem, there should be a definitive answer. Not this bullshit, 6x+4y=15 where we are going to say y is 0 and x is 1. WHAT THE FUCK? Where did the 1 and 0 come from? How come making up numbers is ok? How is there a bazillion answers for one problem?? What the hell is a slope intersect and how do you graph it??  What is a function? WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING?!?

Not THIS Khan
For three weeks I have sat at my kitchen table, using the numerous resources at my disposal- the textbook, online tutors, The Khan Academy (which is not teaching me how to shake my fist and yell "KHAN" in my best William Shatner voice), Purple Math (which is geared towards middle school age kids), other students, The Mister, Teenzilla, Youtube videos- whatever I can get my hands on. I am averaging 18-20 hours a week on the homework and about that much sobbing and throwing things. I have lost sleep, I smoke like a chimney and my family hides from me.  This can't be simple "math anxiety" and with these fast track classes I do not have time to seek a possible diagnosis for Dyscalculia which  is a specific learning disability involving innate difficulty in learning or comprehending arithmetic. It is akin to dyslexia and includes difficulty in understanding numbers, learning how to manipulate numbers, learning maths fact, and a number of other related symptoms. (Wikipedia) 


Learning is hard work, and it's easy to get lazy once you are out of school. This isn't the case. I am NOT lazy. I LOVE school. I have a 3.89 GPA right now. I AM intelligent. I just can't do math. Trying to see how algebra actually fits into my every day life is frustrating to say the least. This abstract crap does NOT fit into MY everyday life! I truly believe that I have no practical use for graphing inequalities.

NEVER going to need this
So what do I do? I have been TRYING so damn hard. I am truly doing the best I can. I hate to fail at ANYTHING- I have never felt so much like a failure than I do now. I do not have the time or financial resources available to re-take this class- much less an Algebra II class. I am ready to just give up. I mean- what would be any different if I fail and then take this class again? The understanding of Algebra isn't going to magically appear. And seriously, pushing 40 years old- taking 3-6 months off to get counseling and intensive tutoring just isn't going to happen. I am already at the edge of the curve to be hired- what with all the baby faced youngsters flooding the teaching profession.  

Someone commented on one of my many ravings on Facebook that I wouldn't want my kids to just see me give up. What they are seeing mom lose it daily, cry, snap at everyone and just be generally miserable. They are watching me sit at my kitchen table, asking for help, trying to do the work for HOURS on end to the exclusion of EVERYTHING else...sometimes even dinner. What they are seeing is mom doing her very, very best, and not "getting"it. Hard work is not something I am afraid of. Hard work with no reward and a big fat "F" is. 

Instead of calling it "quitting" I will call it a calculated retreat.  In the meantime,  if anyone needs me, I'll be under the covers with a glass of wine and some chocolate  ruminating on my failure.