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How She Taught Me to Learn

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“You are the top 5% of your class. Many of you are smarter than I am. You will work hard in this course, and I demand that you perform at your full potential.” These words, spoken on my first day of high school by a small, sixty-something-year-old woman sent waves of dread and self-doubt through my body.

I spent the next few weeks becoming intimate with my geometry book, stressing about my test grades. Sometimes, I would look around the classroom at all my brilliant peers and wonder if I had been mistakenly recommended for this class. Then one day, our teacher announced we would read the 1884 novel Flatlands alongside our other work. I was baffled: why were we reading this ancient book comparing Victorian culture to two-dimensional shapes? Much to my surprise I really enjoyed the book. Each Friday, we would sit in a circle and analyze the latest chapter and Abbott’s subtle criticisms of social classes. Our discussions ranged from debating the similarities between the prophesying Sphere and Jesus to the application of quantum mechanics. I loved that we were being treated as intellectuals with ideas worthy of our teacher’s respect.

At some point, I realized I was not focused on my grades and instead I was thrilled to be learning totally unfamiliar concepts. We were assigned long and complicated proofs and I responded enthusiastically to the challenge of assembling the right combination of theorems and postulates. Soon my classmates and I were meeting after school to share shorter processes for solving challenge problems, as well as our creative interpretations of Flatlands chapters. The collaboration with such funny, enthusiastic, nerdy, and intelligent people was really special to me. I learned as much from my peers as I did from my teacher, and that was exactly how she intended it.

My freshman math teacher knew we could- and would- rise to her challenge and throw ourselves into the course. The result was a confidence that I could take on any class, and a realization that what I invest in a course matters much more than the grade I receive. I recognized that the fear of failure should never hold me back, and that I must be willing to risk a bad grade in order to learn from the most challenging and insightful professors. In addition, I developed a new respect for my peers, and a huge appreciation for what others can teach me from their different world views, backgrounds, and values. This is why an emphasis on collaboration not competition is important to me in a college.



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CammyS said...
Nov. 26, 2012 at 5:58 pm:
Great essay. I wish I had your geometry teacher!
 
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