I’ve had my struggles in certain subjects, but Math has been my scholastic nemesis. That long, hard relationship went south, I’m talking deep south, in fourth grade with the onset of Long Division. Tears were shed again over Long Division when Dear Daughter was introduced to my personal monster-under-the-bed.
I distinctly remember Dear Husband coming home from work to find his beautiful, peaceful, blissfully homeschooling family in chaos and tears.
“What is happening?!” he exclaimed.
“Please help Dear Daughter with her math!” I pleaded.
He took a moment to look over DD’s shoulder, then straightened up to look intently at me before proclaiming the obvious.
“Connie. It is long division.”
“I know!” I sobbed.
Then a series of jumbled words and nonsense flowed out of me. This is the closest I have ever come to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And, like the white knight that he is, Dear Husband sat right down and calmly dismembered that red-eyed, snaggle-toothed, horned monster named Long Division.
I wish I could say that was the last battle I had with Math. But it wasn’t. Just a few years ago I took a position as a chemistry teacher for homeschooled students. While prepping for the class, I worked on a tenacious problem for hours and I just couldn’t get the correct answer. So I did what I was teaching my students to do. Go back over things. Was I using the right conversion factor? Did I read the problem correctly? Did I have the correct units? Was it my calculator? (It’s always the calculators fault!) Finally, I called Dear Son (well, I texted him as he was upstairs).
“Please help. Bring the scientific calculator.”
As I read the equation off he punched the numbers into the calculator. Guess what? He got the right answer. Well.
“Wait”, says I, “How did you do that? I set the problem up. I had all the right numbers, conversion factors and units. Why didn’t I getting the right answer?”
“Well, um….were you using the correct order of operations?”
“Order of operations. You know, PEMDAS: Parenthesis-Exponents-Multiplication-Division-Addition-Subtraction.”
Apparently the blank look on my face told him everything he needed to know about everything that I didn’t know.
After a long, slow look are me Dear Son carefully and sadly said, “Oh Momma. You don’t know PEMDAS?”
And another white knight rode to my rescue.
I’ve emerged from four decades of battle with my nemesis. I now have strength, courage and confidence in my ability to work with and understand that mysterious language of numbers. The scars are still there, but are fading. My shameful secret is out and shriveling in the sunshine gleaming off my white knights’ armor. I’m not sure why none of my teachers or college professors ever caught this mistake that I was repeatedly made, but they didn’t. This wrestling match between me and Math has defined a lot of who I have become and how I teach. I’ve learned to keep on keeping on. Eventually, I will figure it out. I teach my students to keep on. I’ve learned to pay attention to the details. My Dear Mother always said, “The Devil is in the details.” I teach my students to read carefully, write down what they know and write down what they need to find. I learned to ask for help. I teach my students that it is good to ask for help and not just keep banging against that brick wall. I’ve learned to be honest with my students and with other adults and admit that I struggle in this area. I teach my students that it is okay if you don’t know everything. We’ll work on it together.
Do you have a monster-under-the-bed in your life? A subject that strikes fear and trembling in your soul? You know what, that’s okay, we all do. Turn that weakness into a strength.
Keep on keeping on.
Ask for help.
Tell your kids.
Learn it together.
And let that become your order of operations.