Reflections on my Math Education
No, this is post is going to be more focused on my math education since middle school, all the way up to the exam, and my feelings about mathematics in general. My relationship with the subject has always been at least slightly strained, unlike English (which, for me, has just been a series of mildly interesting easy A courses), history (which I used to hate but now love), and science (which I've always adored). In math, unlike my other subjects, feelings of confusion and inferiority were never too far out of reach.
In elementary school, I was good at math, but I never liked it. I wanted desperately to enjoy, but I couldn't make myself like it. It annoyed me, and there were some things in elementary school math that I simply never learned despite being taught (for example, I was taught how to do long division, but I never actually got the hang of it. I honestly don't know how I've made it this far without knowing how to divide numbers by hand). Sixth grade was the same way, but one thing made sixth grade math stand out from my previous math education: it would be the last year I was in the same math class as all of my peers. At the end of the year, we took a placement test to see if we should be put into an advanced math class in seventh grade, and I somehow managed to make it into the advanced class, which was basically just Algebra I but it seemed like a big deal at the time.
I felt far inferior to my classmates in Algebra I. While I did, in the end, grow to understand what the hell was going on with linear equations, it always seemed to take a period of confusion and frustration before in order for me to, at last, reach understanding. It seemed like everyone else in that class just automatically understood whatever we were doing. For what was probably the first time in my educational experience, I felt like the slow kid in the class, and it was a feeling I detested.
I took a Geometry course in eighth grade, which I enjoyed more. Geometry had rules and logic, which gave me a sense of order that I didn't get a sense of when I first learned algebra. In geometry, everything needed to be proven and everything added up to 180 or 360 degrees. My teacher loved me, and if I ever got a bad grade on a test, she told me not to feel bad, because she said that she could "see me thinking every day in class." I doubted this was true, since that class was at the end of the day, but I allowed her to continue thinking that I was some sort of genius even though I wasn't.
So I spent last year taking AP Calculus AB. The first semester was easy: limits and derivatives (and the applications thereof) came easy to me. I was shocked that some people in my class were struggling. However, things took a turn for the worse after the first semester -- we started integration, and I stopped understanding calculus. I was also busy with other extracurriculars at the time, and had little time and was too sleep deprived to focus on calculus. I instead spent my time in calculus daydreaming, writing the lyrics to "Fluorescent Adolescent" by Arctic Monkeys in the margins of my notes, and doodling small pictures of the scene in The Royal Tenenbaums where Margot and Richie meet in slow-motion while "These Days" by Nico plays.
This second semester made me lose my confidence in calculus. I was hesitant to register for the exam because I feared I would fail. My calculus teacher, who was the same teacher that urged me to take AP Calculus the previous year, encouraged me not to give up. She told me that I've done incredibly well in calculus despite my initial doubts about taking the course, and that if I really worked at it, I could get a 5 on the exam. So, I took the exam. Do I think I got a 5? Absolutely not. It was freakin' hard, more so than I initially expected it to be. Some parts, though, were easier, but on the whole I left the exam hoping for a 4. But I guess I'll find out in July.
Well, there you have it. The full history of my math career (not including SAT and ACT math, which is a different story altogether!). I guess the lesson here is this: If you're fairly good at math, but not a prodigy, then sometimes, you'll feel like Max Fischer in the first scene of Rushmore. You'll solve the hardest geometry problem in the world with ease, piece of chalk and teacup in hand. Other times, you'll feel like Max Fischer after that scene: you'll realize that you actually might not be capable of solving the hardest geometry problem in the world, and you'll be too focused on extracurriculars and pursuing your crush to care about math.
And that's okay.
I'm going to end this post with a quote from a Vi Hart video that gave me the necessary confidence to take the AP exam last May:
"I like you, and I want you to be the best. And I don't want to hear any excuses that people have taught you. You are capable of more than you realize."