Old Tapes

Photo by englishsnowI understand well how beliefs that are handed to a child can impact them for a long time.

My high school math teacher had me convinced I couldn’t do math. So I stopped taking it, and focused on music. But when I got to college and discovered that my talent in music would allow me to graduate and sell shoes, I looked around for something else to do.

The problem was that I wanted to work with computers. And that meant I had to take math.

I had scored abysmally on my placement exams, so I was going to have to retake advanced algebra and trig before I went on to calculus. I was afraid, because after all, I was no good in math, right?

Enter Dr. Simon Hellerstein. He taught me that semester, and every day I went to math. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays I attended lecture. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I attended the smaller breakout session, which thanks to a university trial program, he taught as well. Dr. Hellerstein showed me I could Do Math. Very Well.

Condensing a history, I did more math. A lot more math. And ended up with a degree in engineering.

Fast forward 20 years, and I wanted to switch careers. What can I do? I can program. I can teach. And then it hit me. I could teach high school math. I could do my part to make sure that kids didn’t believe they couldn’t do it. Any maybe some day they would be the better for it.

The thing is, in order to teach math, I had to take and pass the Praxis II in math (5161). 2.5 hours to be tested on everything from number theory, logic and sets through algebra, trig, geometry, calculus and linear equations, probability and statistics.

I was very rusty to say the least. Because no matter what the university says, programming for 20 years doesn’t mean I was using math every day. The closest I came was explaining a weighted average to another programmer.

I studied. I studied hard. I reviewed. I worked problems. I took the test…and missed by 3 points. So I went back to studying. And then the tapes started playing again: “you can’t do this” “you’re no good in math” “who do you think you are to pursue this?” “you suck at math” “give it up before you embarrass yourself”.


Luckily I have a lot of support. When I would hear the tapes, I would pick up the phone and call someone. And they would cheer me on. A friend I know from an online group cheered me on from California. My FitBit buddy sent me encouraging messages every day.

So I took it again.

Preliminary scores indicate I passed.

I guess I can do it.

Photo by englishsnow


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