Mathochism: Done, done, done

One woman’s attempt to revisit the math that plagued her in school. But can determination make up for 25 years of math neglect?

Under the compass of Damocles After getting home on the last day of class, I decided to suppress my rage at the professor’s subjective grading antics so I could focus on the last gaps in my calculus knowledge.

I practiced the mean value theorem, I went back over derivatives, limits and continuity. I made sure I had memorized the formulas I would need.

But the rage snuck back up on me that night, making it very difficult to sleep. I usually have trouble sleeping the night before something big — pleasant or unpleasant. But the rage certainly didn’t help. And it kept ranting at me, telling me I should just blow off the final, because I would probably fail even if I solved everything right.

I was finally able to tell my brain to shut up, and got a fairly okay night’s sleep. Then it was time to go to school.

The final was supposed to start at noon, and take three hours. The calc professor was a few minutes late, but not enough to make me leave in fury.

There were barely any students there. We had started the semester with 35. By the last chapter test, we had about 20. And for the final, it was 15. I know my buddy Phil had a special arrangement to take exams separately (the kind I was considering, but wound up not taking for a number of reasons I will not go into here), so with him, it was 16. Still, 19 drops? That’s more than half.

When we got the test, it only had 14 questions. Even on the final, the odds were against us. There were no huge surprises. There was the expected nasty graph that I know I screwed up. There were several piecewise equations. As many nasty roots and absolute values as possible.

She was shockingly gentle with the optimization and related rates. I know I did them right, but — well, partial credit. I likely didn’t draw a nice enough graph, so that’s 6 points off.

I deliberately took all three hours, partly because I really needed them, and partly because I could see how much the professor wanted to leave. She even said, halfway through, that we didn’t have to take all three hours.

Just a few minutes before quitting time, I turned in the exam. I went to get my bag, and realized that the desks were in such a configuration that I couldn’t leave without walking behind the teacher. And there was no room there either, since she was in her chair.

But she got up so I could move past her.

“Thank you,” I said.
“You’re welcome,” she said, and smiled.

I know she thinks I was thanking her for the class, for teaching me calculus. But I wasn’t.

I was just thanking her for getting out of my way.

All text copyrighted by A.K. Whitney, and cannot be used without permission.

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