Overcoming Obstacles in Learning Math

Learning mathematics is a difficult task especially if you do not enjoy working through the mechanics of problem solving. Some people choose to avoid mathematics because of their experiences with past teachers. But in the midst of adversity, you still have to keep working until you learn the concepts that you need to learn. In due time, you will be able to teach someone else about what you have learned. In this article, I would like to describe my personal obstacles in learning mathematics and ways to help young ladies overcome their own obstacles.

Personal Struggles

In 1995, I was a seventh grader at Coloma Middle School. I was new to this school as I was a transfer student from a low-performing school. Coloma was a high-performing school district so the transition was very difficult. I struggled the most in my mathematics courses because I had not established all of the sign rules and the basic computation that was involved with solving algebra problems in class. As each day went by, I became more and more discouraged with my math scores. There were many days when I would cry because I wanted to learn the subject like everyone else but I do not think that I was ready for the process of catching up to other students. Finally, I had a conversation with my parents and they told me that I would need tutoring so that I could get better grades. So each morning, my Dad woke me up and he took me to school early so that I could get tutoring. I also did extra work at home so that I could improve my score. After my first year, I received a C as my final grade. But at least the C was better than a D.

So in August of 1996, I started the new school year again with tutoring each morning. As I went through each lesson, I started to understand math more. At night, I was able to do my homework with ease. I was happy that my scores were finally coming up. At the end of my second year at Coloma Middle, I ended out the school year with a B as my final grade. I am thankful for my personal struggles because I had no idea that one day, I would become a Mathematician that would teach other students that struggle with mathematics. I am glad that I went through this experience because it gave me an appreciation of what other students go through when they are having trouble understanding their coursework.

Ways to help other ladies overcome their own obstacles

I have compiled a list of ways that can help ladies as they go further into their studies:

  • Enlist the help of mentors in academia and at the workplace. I have found that these mentors have helped me to make the transition from college to academia. My mentors are professors, deans, and other high-ranking officials at the university level. Often times, it helps to have perspective from people who have walked in my shoes. Their advice is helpful to me as I make decisions for my future.

  • Enroll in a learning community. I enrolled in my first learning community two years ago and I learned so much about cultural competency (and later, effective teacher evaluations) and its effect on colleges and universities all over the world. But I also had a chance to meet people from various fields who were able to add value to my time in the learning community. The best part about learning communities is the idea of meeting people and finding ways to collaborate on research in the present and near future.

  • Remove procrastination from your mind. In my time in academia, I submit my research for conferences as soon as I find out about them. I want to make sure that I have the best chance of acceptance so that I can travel to the conference for the presentation. I also submit my forms for research funding early because there are times when funding runs out because other faculty members have submitted their forms early. But I have to put in my best work today so that I can submit a great paper. When you do not submit your best work, you lessen your chance for acceptance at conferences. Often times, the early bird gets the worm. Do not hold off on what can be done today.

  • Only discuss your opinions with people who are trustworthy. Often times, we share our opinions with others and it can be seen in the wrong context. I have general conversations with my colleagues. I can discuss some research ideas and even talk about future conferences that I would like to attend. However, my personal opinions are not up for public consumption. I keep those opinions for close friends that I can get constructive feedback from. But unless it relates to something pertinent in my department, I keep my opinion closed to only a select number of people. This is the best way to reduce conflict and emotional responses in your department/workplace.

  • Put your pride aside. I enjoy working with people but sometimes, I prefer to work alone. I know that the work will get done if I get it done in a timely fashion. But the interesting part is that I tend to work with people that I can have conversations with. Working with others shows others that I can be a team player so that a project can be completed. Often times, someone else can help you if you happen to miss a task or a grading item. Overall, two heads are better than one so it is important to work hard so that you can find ways to work with others in your area.

  • When obstacles come, find a way to take a break. I tend to work on many projects at one time and sometimes, an obstacle will occur. When this happens, I have to work on just one project until I work out the obstacle. If I cannot work out the obstacle quickly, I step away from it so that I can clear my mind. I find that when I step away, I can find the resolution to the problem and then go back and complete the project. Too often, we spend so much time on a project that we forget that we need to take time away to do other things. Breaks are needed so that you can refresh your mind and come up with new ideas. In the end, new ideas will give birth to new research that you can work on as soon as you eliminate some projects. Do not overload your plate. Find some time to devote to each individual project so that you can complete each project successfully.

Overall, I have used each of the above techniques in order to rise from a part-time Adjunct Mathematics Instructor to a full-time Mathematics Lecturer. It took a lot of hard work and determination to get to where I am now. However, I still have to set new goals (Assistant Professor) so that I will have more to work for. Obstacles will occur in your work life but it takes to a strong person to overcome those obstacles so that you can go forward to complete the task. I encounter some type of obstacle with each research paper that I write. But I know that working through each paragraph will help me to get to the finish line. In your projects, keep working at it each day and in due time, you will reach your goal of completing your project.


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