Hayley McLaughlin – The Impact of Math

I do not like math. I am not very good at math. I am an English major by trade, and my entire life revolves around reading books and writing essays instead of solving equations and graph. However, perhaps the most influential and life-changing class I have ever taken in my educational career was a math class. My senior year of high school, I made the decision to take AP Calculus AB. This was a decision I was very hesitant toward, as I hadn’t received very good grades in my pre-calculus class the year before.

Taking this math class was undoubtedly one of the best decisions I have ever made. Not only did I learn more math than I ever thought possible to exist, but I learned an incredible amount about myself.

This class was hard, extremely hard. My teacher purposely made the material in this class significantly harder than what would be on the AP test at the end of the year, because she believed it was the best way to help us learn. Throughout most of the school year, we resented her for this. My fellow classmates and I didn’t think it was fair. Getting a 11/60 on a class exam was not unheard of, but getting a 55/60 was cause for a major celebration. My classmates and I were AP students, we were not used to the feeling of failure. It was an awful feeling.

During the first part of the year, this mass amount of failure was completely devastating, both to me and my classmates. In our eyes, we were trying so hard in this class and didn’t deserve to get these failing grades over and over again. There were a lot of study groups, a lot of tears, and a lot of literally throwing our textbooks across the room. While we were continuously failing our quizzes and exams, only one person in our class of nineteen actually received a failing grade on their report card. How was this possible?

If we did our homework, we received the full amount of points for it. If we failed our exams or quizzes, we were allowed to do quiz/test corrections for half credit back. Our teacher understood that her class was impossibly difficult, and because of that, she gave us as many opportunities to gain points back as possible. I got a B the first semester.

The second semester was harder, there was a lot more material to cover in a much smaller amount of time-- and we had the AP exam to prepare for in May. However, this semester saw a lot less tears and fewer books thrown across the classroom. At this point, my classmates and I discovered that my teacher’s previous students, ninety percent of the time, received perfect 5s on their AP exams. Her students did this well every single year, this is no exaggeration.

We worked, and worked, and worked, until we lived and breathed calculus. May approached, and then it arrived. We took our exam. Then we waited. Sure enough sixteen of us received perfect 5s on our AP exams. Finals came around, we continued to work, she gave us a final just as hard as the AP exam, even when we spent weeks begging her not to do so. Grades were released just before graduation. I got an A the second semester.

Why? It wasn’t just because I learned how to solve the equations and plot points on a graph. It was because I learned about my educational limits, how to study as hard as I could without breaking my soul. My calculus teacher, at the beginning of this year, told us that “there is a thin line between struggling and suffering” and that we should find our line and then never cross it. Her intent was to make us struggle, not suffer. I spent a lot of my first semester in that class suffering, and then I found my line.

I learned more about myself in this math class than I ever have before. I learned my limits between struggling and suffering, and I believe it is this understanding of myself that will allow me to be a successful college student as well as a successful adult. Living in a world of technology, I understand that math is the basis of an incredible amount of functioning in today’s society. However, I think it is more than that. I believe that math can teach us about ourselves, about who we are, what our limits are, and how hard we are willing to work for something. Math is hard for some people, yes, but it is just as important and valuable to everyone, whether they realize it or not.

Hayley McLaughlin