What I Learned From My Math Teache

July 7, 2008
By Kiley Yeaman, Brentwood, CA

Scary movies always bring out the "chicken" in people. One scene, they're perfectly fine. But the moment the eerie music starts playing, they're biting their nails nervously and shivering as if the temperature just dropped ten degrees. I've always laughed at these kinds of people. "It's a movie!" I'd think to myself. "What's it going to do, eat you?"

Freshman year, however, I experienced having a ridiculous fear of nothing, just like these people. Only it wasn't scary movies that brought out the fear factor in me, it was math.

The day I met my math teacher, Mr. Lawrence Myers, wasn't the most enjoyable encounter in my life. Not only was it my first day of high school, it was my first day of Algebra 1. That meant that I was taking the simplicity of Pre-Algebra concepts: addition, subtraction, division, and multiplication; and throwing in foreign symbols and random letters. That also meant that my stress level was higher than Lindsay Lohan's blood alcohol content after a night of partying.

Mr. Myers was a sarcastic man who seemed to be convinced that he was always right. Of course, almost the entire class would try to argue with him, and at times, the class felt more like a courtroom than a classroom. He also had a knack for putting his least favorite students on the spot, which, honestly, was the majority of the class roster.

Not many people in Mr.Myer's class had good grades. Many people seemed to have this ideology: if you want a stellar grade in Mr. Myer's class, then forget about it. That was the ideology I began to take on myself. "God, Kiley, it doesn't matter. Anything and everything you do math related will be mediocre." I'd think to myself. And as my grade plummeted from the shaky ground of a 'C-' to the ultimate failure of them all, a 'F', I became even more convinced that mixing math and I would not result in success.

Failing Algebra 1 is not something I'm particularly proud of. I felt so left out from the rest of my classmates. They would all get to experience Geometry: a sensational blend of shapes and formulas, while I would be stuck mindlessly trying to comprehend the quadratic formula. Oh, joy.

When sophomore year rolled around, I was simply furious to find out that I again would be enrolled in Mr.Myers class. I was ready to abandon all hope at that point and raise my white flag. Algebra 1 wasn't going to be any different this year. I was never going to pass it. I envisioned myself working the register at In-N-Out Burger, taking orders in a chipper voice which sounded nothing like my own. "Hello, my name is Kiley and I am a high school dropout! How may I help you today?" The words echoed through my mind, beckoning insanity.

Needless to say, with my visionary of an inevitably unsuccessful future and my low self esteem, sophomore year was off to a bad start. I didn't have to deal with Algebra 1 until the second quarter of my year, though, so the classes that were affected were the subjects I was best in: english and art.

First semester was a roller coaster in terms of drama and speed. The whole semester I was on a continuous ride of stress and procrastination. At the end of the semester, my grades turned out to be substandard and second rate. I gazed at that report card for good long time, just thinking.  If the mere thought of going back into art class was frightening, how was I going to muster up enough courage and competence to be able to pass Algebra 1?

So, I did the unthinkable. I made a goal. I was going to get straight A's. Yes, A's in all of my classes, even algebra. World History, Biology, Physical Education and Algebra 1 would require my utmost concern and attention for the next six months. For once, I ignored the doubt that was clawing at me from the back of my mind and I decided to go for it. I decided that I wanted those A's and I was going to get them.

Soon enough, the day came: the day I was going back into Mr.Myers' class. It was my fourth and final period of the day and I knew that this would be the one class that would keep me from reaching my goal. Past feelings of fear and nervousness overtook me as I reached, once again, for the handle of Mr. Myers' door.

Mr. Myers seated everyone and began to go over the class syllabus. I chuckled to myself that day, because it was like a complete re-run of freshman year; like somebody had taken the recording of my very first day of high school math and popped it into the DVD player. Here I was again, in Mr. Myers' room, listening to the same old voice of Mr.Myers. It was the same classroom, same teacher, and the same exact textbook. The only thing that changed was the people I'd come to know as my classmates.

Mr. Myers sure did a lot of talking, even for a teacher, and I knew that if I really wanted to be on the right pathway to success I was going to have to genuinely listen to what he said. I found that Mr. Myers didn't even talk that much about math! Everything he said was like a guideline to pass the class. Every piece of advice he gave I heeded, while the rest of the class seemed to kick around like an old, dented soda can. I took the advice he gave us, no matter how far-fetched or stupid it sounded, and I put it into action.

The first chapter test went by like a breeze. What an Easy A! Mr.Myers had a surprised expression etched onto his face when he laid the test on my desk. "We'll see how long this lasts." He muttered and continued to pass out tests.

I continued to listen to and contemplate Mr.Myers' advice for the course of the semester. I kept thinking that I would let my guard down and fail a test or quiz. It was almost like one of those suspenseful movies. My grade was susceptible to falling below an "A" anytime, which caused me to constantly stress and worry about math. I remember, on a rainy day, sitting there, crying after I had taken the test, because I was so sure that I hadn't done well. Mr.Myers walked over and assured me that I had done fine. When I got the test back, I had received an "A."

One quality that makes a good teacher is a teacher who has stories to tell. There is nothing better a teacher can bring you than a life experience. Life is the only thing we can truly learn from, because there are some things a textbook can never teach you. Mr. Myers shared his advice through the means of stories. Stories are so personal and easy to communicate with people. I feel that me taking a genuine interest in what Mr.Myers had to say, greatly affected the outcome of my math class and my other classes.

There  is one story Mr. Myers told us that I will remember for a long time. "I was taking the SAT," he said. "And I almost got a perfect score. I missed one question. See, even I make mistakes."

Everyone then perked up, amazed that he admitted that he too could make a mistake! "What question was it?" The class begged and pleaded.

"Lugubrious. That was the word I missed."

My classmates all looked at each other with confusion. "What's that mean?"

He never told us what lugubrious meant. He just told us to look it up in the dictionary. I looked it up on Google when I got home that day. Near the end of the year, he happened to discuss that story again. He mentioned that one of his past students recently encountered that word on the SAT, and thanks to him, they got that question right. I smiled to myself, because unlike the rest of my classmates, I had looked up that word.

The end of the semester was coming to a close, which meant it was almost summertime. I began to get restless, much like everyone else, but I kept my head in the game during finals. First quarter I had succeeded in getting a 4.0 GPA. Now, I had to tackle this quarter. However, with my test scores getting lower in each of my classes, I was almost sure that I wouldn't reach my goal. To put myself at ease, I would just think of my teacher's strong advice: "Test in layers. Don't let the test take you. The human mind really is a powerful thing..."

The day of the final, I came in prepared and gave it my all. Mr. Myers even asked me to sign his yearbook. I had him sign mine as well and the message inside means so much to me.


Thank you for reminding me that anything is possible. Your improvement this year is proof that every student has greatness within them. If you can keep it up, then there is no telling where you will end up.

L. Myers"

My report card came in the mail a few weeks later. I passed all my finals and classes with a grade point average of 3.75. I didn't reach my original goal, but I learned so much from this experience and I will definitely continue to try for excellence in my schoolwork. I'm not afraid of any math now, because, as cheesy as it sounds, I know that if I could do anything as long as I put effort into it.  I learned so much about the power I possess and what I can do - from my math teacher of all people!

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