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I have never loved math—in fact, it’s always been my least favorite subject. I spent years attempting to keep up with even basic math that most of the kids in my class found simple. Despite my struggles, I had no motivation to actually learn or soak in the curriculum, and simply did the bare minimum every day to ensure that I didn’t fail. However, that changed entirely when I met Mrs. Simonsen, my freshman year Algebra II teacher.
She was small and frail, but absolutely terrifying, telling us that we had been spoonfed for years and that none of us were prepared for the course we were about to take. She boomed at us, “You have never been challenged before.” She immediately started writing numbers and symbols on the board that to me looked as familiar as a foreign language.
I spent two-thirds of the first quarter of school failing math with a 36. Her words echoed in my head as I pushed myself to overcome my failure. “You have never been challenged before.” From then on, I did practice problems until the numbers blurred on the page and graphed conic sections until my hand hurt. “You have never been challenged before.” I worked as hard as I could to wrap my brain around concepts that I didn’t think I would ever understand, until I did. “You have never been challenged before.” That quarter I finished math with an average of a 72, a low point for my grades, but a high point for my education. I quickly realized that the two were very different.
I understood now that she was right; we had never been challenged before. Years of flying by our courses, aiming only to make good grades and neglecting the purpose of school was only hurting us. For many of my peers, my 72 would have seemed life-threatening, but to me it was a trophy. It was a symbol of my hard work and determination, as well as my newfound capacity to learn a subject I had never even bothered to learn before. It showed me that there was certainly more to school than the grades I made, and that the true value of learning was education: the knowledge I worked for. The things I fought to understand and finally did.
From that year on, not only have I learned to love math and education, but I’ve also learned to love hard work. I have discovered that the feeling of pride that comes from determination and perseverance is more invaluable than anything, and I intend to carry this knowledge with me for the rest of my life.
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