Let me pause here to clear something up. This is not a calculus class. It would be dishonest of me (however tempting) to allow my readers to think I am capable of such a feat of mental acuity. I am not. "Functions of Calculus" is the misleadingly named course referred to as "Pre-Calculus" in high schools across the nation. But I guess the kids are in college now, and Functions of Calculus sounds so much ... smarter.
But smarter I am not. I have struggled with math as far back as school memories reach. In fourth grade, I was pulled from the math period to attend some special class (gifted or remedial, I have yet to pinpoint) in another building. Somehow, the educators there thought it made sense to take us out of math and use the time to teach us more about literature and history and science. We certainly didn't complain. I certainly never caught up.
In consequence, I now have the interesting experience of suffering through debilitating emotional flashbacks of ineptitude every Tuesday and Thursday evening, for two hours. Peter can attest to the numb, edge-of-tears creature that crawls through the door on these nights, deflated and secure in her utter failure as a student of mathematics (and, by neurotic extension, as a person.)
In the moments when I can take a step back and look, it has been an interesting peculiarity to observe. I am a competent student. I got good grades in high school and college (except, of course, in math,) and am doing a solid job of hacking through my Drexel classes towards this MS. I procrastinate inexcusably, but I turn out good work when the clock is ticking. I passed the national teaching exams with points to spare. Yet twice a week I become completely, irrevocably convinced that a) I have a smaller brain than a lab chip, therefore b) any educational success I have achieved thus far has been a spectacular fluke and c) I am moments away from being given a permanent seat in the Dunce Corner of adult life.*
Fascinating how incredibly irrational the human mind can be, isn't it?
*This is sometimes manifest in fantasies of being booed out of my student teaching assignment by laughing, jeering eleven year olds. Shunned in the teacher's lounge. Sneered at by the lunch lady and bus monitors. It always plays out something like a dystopian Cartoon Network LSD trip.
I don't know how much of this paranoia stems from page-wide inequalities littered with fractions, imaginary numbers and free radicals, and how much is fed by my continuing reservations about a career as a teacher (fueled most recently when a stranger walked up to me in a coffee shop last weekend, pointed at my text books and decried, "I'm a teacher, and I can tell you right here and now those are worthless. Don't read them. Throw them out. Those people don't know the first thing about education.") In the end, it doesn't really matter.
The truth of it is I know what is tripping me up; all the basics I missed sitting in the back of math classes in middle and high school scribbling out short stories, plotting novel chapters, sketching characters in the textbook margins and perfecting the use of my TI-82's free-drawing function (to me, nothing more than an expensive etch-a-sketch.) I probably shouldn't be in this class at all, but I am not going to drop another $500 and five months on the remedial math. Instead, I am looking for a tutor and trying to muster the psychological wherewithal to maintain a realistic perspective on the bi-weekly meltdown that is now sewn into the fabric of my life.
In the end, that's probably a valuable enough exercise in itself.