Mathochism: Making the grade

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

He kept me waiting over the weekend.

I am not sure if he deliberately meant to torment me by doing so, but presume he didn’t; he was just busy living and working and parenting, and thus not inclined to check e-mail and answer my timid question about “my grade in the math class?”

Luckily, though, I went out of town Saturday, and so I was less tempted to check for his reply every 15 minutes, the way I did after I first sent the e-mail Friday.

There was an Internet terminal right by the reception desk of our hotel, but we were too busy sightseeing for me to haunt it with any embarrassing frequency. On Monday afternoon, however, I succumbed — and there it was.

The dapper professor’s reply.

“Your grade in this class is an ‘A’.”


Take that, math phobia!

I don’t think I have ever looked forward to a report card so much in my life. I was never one of those students who dreaded their report cards, knowing said card would either rat them out to their parents or else raise expectations way too high. Even when my grades weren’t stellar, I could always count on my brother to do far worse than I. He never gave a damn about school, and couldn’t wait to get out, and compared to him, I was always the good child.

But I never looked forward to report card time, either, because there was always a class, or a teacher, that I knew I had not responded to very well, and the resulting B, or C, or D would sit there like a turd on my transcript.

True story — I got a D in creative writing. And one in French.

My outrage at the creative writing grade should be self-explanatory — I became a writer for a living — but the French? I have been fluent in French since I was 12. I got As in French 1 and 2.

But my French 3 teacher and I had issues, hence the D. That D turned into a B eventually, but still.

I remember the French teacher calling me up at home to defend her decision. That’s when I knew she knew she was being unfair. Her D, however, still sits on my transcript. And it still stinks.

Many years later, when I covered the education beat for the Press-Telegram, I found myself writing about my old high school. The unfair French teacher was long gone, but I interviewed plenty of other teachers for stories, and I found myself astonished at how clueless some of them seemed about the big effect, for good or evil, they have on their students.

I know many are overworked and underpaid, and that some are teaching instead of doing, and unhappy about their career failures. I know they deal with hundreds of students a day. But they should also know, if only just from their own experience, how much a teacher can make a difference in a kid’s life.

And speaking of lousy teachers: Mrs. Isaacs, my long ago Algebra teacher,
Mrs. “What Can I Do?” didn’t give me a D. I got a B my first semester, and a C the second. How I could have done that and not learned a damn thing is beyond me.

While waiting for the dapper professor’s reply Friday, I dug out all my old math grades. There it was — the evidence of my mounting math phobia. But even though I have stated before that it started in sixth grade, my grades that year weren’t awful. Nor was my teacher displeased — she seemed to think I was doing well.

The same can be said for seventh grade.

My eighth grade grades have gotten lost, so the trail goes cold there. But the real trouble, it seems, started with Algebra. With Mrs. Isaacs, and her helpful nature.

What will happen Monday, when Algebra begins again?

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



  • What will happen Monday, when Algebra begins again?

    You will do fine.
    Algebra is just a set of rules about how you move things from one side of the equals sign to the other.

    You’ll be amazed what a little maturity can do for you.

  • Thanks! I really appreciate the support, and also, thanks so much for reading!
    Hopefully I have matured in the decades since my first foray into Algebra. Either way, determination has usually worked for me.

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