The summer before sixth grade, I received a letter from school informing me of my exceptional performance on a math placement test. While nervous, I became thrilled to begin my sixth grade year taking eighth grade math. Here I was, fresh out of elementary school, explaining mathematical concepts to kids two years older than me.
Since then, I never felt the need to put much effort into math -- it all seemed to come naturally. The feeling lasted until my junior year of high school.
“Hello and welcome to AP Calculus B/C!” boasted my teacher. As I looked around the room, I saw my friends, posters hanging on the walls, and my teacher’s smiling face. The overall environment seemed great. I went into calculus like I went into any other math class: prepared to understand math as usual.
The first two weeks were a breeze. Limits and continuity were nothing difficult, and until I decided to take a crack at the homework, everything was fine. When the material grew more challenging, I turned to my dad for help. It became our new thing -- sitting at the kitchen table doing math together. And when the first test came around, I was nervous, but I felt ready.
The day after the test, my teacher handed them back. As I hesitantly looked down at my paper, the 71% written in the top right corner was glaring back at me. The room suddenly became hostile as I could actively feel the grins and internal excitement of everyone around me invading this personal moment. Their A’s and B’s flooded my sense of dedication and self esteem. I sank in my chair. As I exited the room, everything seemed to go downhill from there.
Soon enough, I started to put off the homework. Math had always been fun for me, but it soon became a main source of my anxiety. I would cram the night before tests. I would sit at the kitchen table, crying, with my dad as he desperately tried to explain how to use the Chain Rule to differentiate composite functions.
Each test came back worse until I was consistently receiving D’s and F’s. I was so upset with myself for letting my grade get to this point, but I also could never find the motivation to make a change. So, I quit.
My second semester was much less stressful. My grades in my other classes improved drastically and it was such a relief to not have calculus infecting my mind constantly. As the school district transitioned into distance learning, I was tremendously grateful to be experiencing the transition without the hardest math class I’ve ever taken. I flew through the rest of the year and into the summer at ease.
However, when filling out my PSEO forms for this year, something felt off. At first, I was infinitely ready to have a relaxed senior year without a math class in sight. But, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that one bad experience didn’t mean I couldn’t try again. So, with a determined mindset, I signed up for Calc 1 at RCTC.
As I arrived at RCTC to take the first math test of the year, I was filled with the same apprehension I had experienced a year ago. However, this time around, I had practiced consistently. I did every homework problem, managed my time more effectively, and began the year with an entirely new mindset.
I took a deep breath and began to write, actively reciting the formulas and procedures in my head that I'd spent hours practicing the days before. Though my hands were shaky, my eyes beamed with confidence. This time around, I was handed a 117% instead of a 71%.
Grace Sprecher is a senior at Mayo High School. Send comments on teen columns to Jeff Pieters, firstname.lastname@example.org.