Friday, September 9, 2011

My brain hurts!

Last week, I spent three days subbing for the math teacher, who, God bless her, teaches seven different math classes a day, ranging from pretty simple fifth grade math to basic geometry and algebra.

In high school, I was good at math. I took Algebra I, II, and III; trig; and geometry, and had straight A's save for one nine weeks of geometry. I quit calculus after one day because I had seen too many people in my school wreck their GPA for that apparently difficult class. Since I was planning to teach English, I did not see the point. Once I got to college, I needed only two math classes, one of which was a great stat class. After that, I figured I would never need math again (you know, calculators and all). But, alas, I figured incorrectly.

In the fall of 1994, I was hired to teach the English classes at a business college. Because they needed to fill a period of my schedule, I ended up teaching a business math class my first quarter there. One might think with my math skills, teaching simple business math would not be so bad. But one would be wrong!

Dear readers, at that point, I had never even balanced a checkbook. Which might help to explain why in college I was often at the ATM wondering why I had no money to take out when according to my checkbook, I should have had at least three or four Andrew Jacksons.

Somehow I made it through that one quarter of math class and eventually convinced my students I was not a complete idiot when it comes to math (note to self: not a good idea to share with your business math students that you have never balanced your checkbook). In fact, within the first few weeks of teaching that class, I spent a couple of evenings going through 18 months of checking account spending and actually figuring it out to the penny. And, yes, I shared that with my students. (For the record, I have not balanced my checkbook in a few years.)

But back to my subbing last week.

When you have done nothing more complicated than third grade math for over a decade and a half, trying to figure out perimeters of various shapes attached to various other shapes, remembering how to divide and multiply fractions, and solving various word problems is no walk in the park. You just can't tell the kids the answer and move on, at least not the kids who want to learn and understand. And as I also discovered, just because the brightest kid in the class may be able to correctly answer even the most complicated problem doesn't mean he can explain it to others.

In the end, I did my best, explaining what I could and admitting to the two problems I could not figure out. My brain got a great workout, and for a few days, my oft-failing memory was revived.

I felt exhausted, but good (and of course super-smart), and for a few moments, I actually considered going back to school to teach math.

But then I remembered calculus. And that math gets much harder than what I was teaching.

I think I will just stick to what I know.

But who knows? Maybe someday I will balance my checkbook again.

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