Mathochism: The five stages of math grief

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

The good news: I now understand logarithms, though I still need to practice manipulating them in equations to be truly proficient. But I GET THEM. Befuddled girl is gone, and I’m back in the Math Zone, at least for the moment.

The bad news: I will definitely not be getting an A on this last chapter test, even though I studied very hard, got the necessary rest, and carbo- and Snapple-loaded beforehand. This means any hope I had of getting an A in the class is also gone.

But as the semester wraps up, I realize I’ve spent the last few months grieving over the fact that, had the dapper professor’s section not been cancelled, I would have been able to avoid the Brofessor and his shenanigans. Without him, would I have done better? I like to think so. After all, look at how well I did when exposed to a good teacher.

I’ve even gone through Elisabeth Kubler-Ross‘ five stages (she may have formalized them, BTW, but I contend Emily Dickinson described them best in her wonderful poem “After great pain, a formal feeling comes”).

Let me elaborate:

DENIAL: The Brofessor may seem bored and eager to chat about non-math related subjects, but he knows how to teach! Really! He obviously knows what he’s doing!

ANGER: Why the hell is the Brofessor late again? Why won’t he wear something other than those damn shorts? Where is the test? Why is he stopping the lecture again to talk about global warming?

BARGAINING: If I go along with the Brofessor’s “what happens to soda when you add sugar” scenario, maybe he’ll finally explain that polynomial! And if I get the answers for the even homework problems, maybe the time he wasted not explaining because he was nattering on about soda won’t affect my test performance!

DEPRESSION: I’m struggling with some of these concepts, but there’s no point in asking the Brofessor for help. It’s hopeless. I’m hopeless. I really suck at math.

ACCEPTANCE: I won’t be getting an A this time, but I’ve been able to learn the material on my own, in spite of the Brofessor’s incompetence. I don’t suck at math, and I will continue. The Math Zone will be mine. Oh yes.

Now the studying for The Final begins. I have laid down a bottle of Snapple in anticipation.

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

One comment

  • Hi, A.K. I found your blog tonight from JetGirl’s link over at, and have just read through your archives on Mathochism. People coming back to math later in life interest me (I’m a freelance math tutor at the moment), and I’m glad your journey is working out so well for you so far. Have you ever read Sheila Tobias’ book “Overcoming Math Anxiety”? Among other topics, she explores the ways in which women have been passively redirected away from math at an early age, and the consequences for the underrepresentation of women in science and technology fields. I think some of that might resonate with your own experience.

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