Saturday, 17 April 2010

Taking A Plunge

Academically, I've always been a high achiever at the arts and humanities end of the curriculum, and hopeless at maths and science. I enjoyed maths and science till I went to senior school. I dropped all three science subjects when it was time to choose my O levels, but I had to do maths. I was in the O level class with a teacher who was undoubtedly a very nice woman, and probably a fine mathematician, but not a good teacher. If I asked for help with something I didn't understand, she would explain it exactly the same way as she'd explained it the first time, only louder. The volume wasn't the problem, so this didn't help.

Once when she was off sick, the CSE teacher took our class. He was great! If I didn't get something, he explained it as many different ways as it took for me to grasp the concept! I asked if I could move to the CSE class. No, they said, you're a high achiever, you're capable of O level. Not with this teacher, I muttered, and anyway, grade 1 CSE is supposedly equivalent to an O level so what's the difference? That didn't get me anywhere.

I developed a fear of maths, and a conviction that I couldn't do much beyond basic arithmetic. So I failed maths O level. Several times. The last time I sat the exam, I used the time to catch up on my letter-writing. I told myself I didn't care: I knew enough to work out my change, read a timetable, divide a restaurant bill. That was all I needed.

Fast forward 29 years and you find me beginning to feel slightly interested in science. I had a look at OU introductory science courses, but they all say you need basic maths. Eek. Gulp. The OU also offers a basic maths course. I had a look, in some trepidation, and found that the student reviews were helpful. 'Did you feel stupid in maths classes at school?' Yup. 'This course doesn't make you feel like that.' Really? 'The tutor was so helpful.' Hmmm. 'The course makes maths relevant to everyday life.' Ooh!

So I think I'm going to sign up. It's scary, though.

My father was always afraid to learn to swim. (Stay with me, this is relevant.) He didn't like to go in water if it was more than knee deep. I have an abiding memory of childhood holidays where he would sit in the sea up to his chest, put on my swimming mask and crane his face forward into the water to look at the fish. After he retired, he decided to face his fear, and signed up for a course at the local swimming pool. He was in there with a load of kids, holding on to a polystyrene float and kicking his legs behind him. The day he swam a width unaided, he rang to tell me of his achievement. I was, and am, hugely proud of him.

My brain tells me I should be equally proud of myself for facing my fear of maths. But I don't feel proud, I feel silly and nervous and frightened of failure. Which is daft! What's the worst thing that can happen? Nobody will tell me off, or dock my salary, or stop being my friend, or sack me from my job.

And still, and still.

People, eh? What Are We Like?!


Beleaguered Squirrel said...

As you know I'm more than able to help with this, and happily will if you need / would like me to. I'd also be fascinated in the process, cos am interested in the things which block people from learning maths and subsequently free them up again. I certainly don't think you're stupid, and definitely believe you're capable of this. It's all about attitude, I suspect. It's a confidence thing. If you believe you can do it, then you will. Oh and thankyou for quoting me in the previous post!

Carol said...

I think your amazing for doing that and I'm not surprised that you are very proud of your Dad!!

I'm hopeless at maths (had very similar experience at school) and, like you, have developed a bit of a phobia about it. I finally admitted a few years ago that when people put a bill in front of me and ask me to work out each persons share I just screw up my face and pretend that I'm thinking about it...I don't even try...and I continue to do that till someone else works it out!! Sad eh!

I say go for it and let me know how you get on....

C x

Bernadette said...

Oh, Queenie, do go for it. I know it's scary, but it can be overcome and it's so worth it.

I taught adult numeracy for a while and you are SO not alone in this. Almost everyone who came to the classes had a similar story to yours and teachers understand that now. As with any other learning the joy when you first 'get' something will be well worth the effort.

You are not incapable. You are a bright lady. You were just badly taught.

(And, as BS said, emaill me if there's anything I can do to help.)

Debs said...

Do go for it. I was utterly hopeless at Maths at school & tend to see figures back to front and immediately forget numbers unless they're written down.

I had to take an Accounts exam for work and it was only when I stopped feeling so fearful of figures that I actually passed and now love working with numbers (although I have to concentrate very hard on them).

I'm not surprised you're proud of your dad. Good for him for facing his fear and mastering it.

Queenie said...

BS, thank you - my Paramour made the same offer, but you're (nearly) better qualified - prepare for phone calls e.g. 'Miss, can you help me with my homework?' ;-)

Carol, blimey, you sound even worse than me. I will indeed keep you posted.

Bernadette, thank you, that's really helpful, and I may well indeed call upon you if I get stuck. Which I probably will...

Debs, thank you, all this encouragement is strengthening my resolve.

Shane said...

It is a good and right thing that you're doing.

In some situations, an individual's prowess in other domains will extend their sense of 'need to go back to fix that (maths thing)'. Of course, as an Average Ann, this doesn't apply to you, but you know what I mean.

Juliet Oscar Kilo Echo.

Carol said...

Just popped over to let you know that there is an award for you over at mine :-)

C x

Pat said...

Thank you for being honest and giving me a momentary satisfaction that I wasn't a complete duffer.
Someone close to me is taking various O levels aged 50 from no other reason than a need to try.
I think it is laudable.
However to combat my fear of driving I took a refresher course where my instructor insisted I did all the things I dreaded - overtaking on the motorway in blinding rain- and I have to say that although I though the ploy had worked I'm now just as fearful.
Fingers crossed that you are taught by the right person and I'm full of admiration.

Anonymous said...

I have a PhD in physics, so you'd think my maths would be pretty sound, wouldn't you? But no, I have a very weak area in probability and statistics. It was, as you've pointed out by your own experience, all down to poor teaching, resulting in a lack of confidence on my part. Prob & stats are still a bit of a mystery to me, even today.

I hope you enjoy your OU course. I'm sure you'll pass it easily.

Queenie said...

Shane: Hotel Alpha Hotel Alpha.

Carol, thank you! Like you, I'm not a great follower of rules...

Pat, you're not even a bit of a duffer. It's actually very sensible to be scared of things like overtaking on the motorway in blinding rain where someone might end up dead. It is undoubtedly a bit daft being scared of elementary maths - so thanks for your encouragement.

CB: that's really interesting, oddly enough probability and statistics is one of the few areas where I have some confidence, probably due to two hours tuition a week for three years as an undergraduate (and always first thing on Monday mornings, sheesh!)

womagwriter said...

Queenie, you go for it! If you find probability and stats ok from your degree course then you've mastered the hardest part, in my opinion. I was good at maths and took 2 maths A levels but hated doing stats.

Debi said...

Great to stretch your brain in a different direction. Bet you find it really rewarding x

Anonymous said...

that's brilliant! As a maths lover I really admire people who go back and do it in the face of bad childhood teaching.

Go you! * pom poms *