Here’s what I remember about eighth-grade math: failing and having to take it all over again in ninth grade.

I started struggling with math as early as fifth grade, but it wasn’t until eighth grade that I internalized the message of all those bad test grades, all those years of frustration tears over math homework: I wasn’t a math person. That explained it! Literature, languages, history, those were my things. I could understand those subjects. I could learn in those fields. But math? My brain just wasn’t made for math.

It never occurred to me that maybe I could learn if it was taught a different way. It never occurred to me that maybe I could learn if I practiced more. It never occurred to me that I could learn.

I scraped by in Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II, barely passing, and then felt the sweet relief of senior year when math became elective. And I elected OUT.

I wasn’t a math person.

But now here I am, repeating eighth-grade math for the third time in my mid-40s, only this time I’m the teacher as well as the student.

My son has always loved math, but it’s hard this year. It’s eighth-grade math, and that’s hard enough. But there are additional complications—a teacher he doesn’t always get along with, distracting classmates, a confusing textbook. All of the math comes home—classwork, homework, tests.

And that’s where I am come in, the eighth-grade math failure, the high-school math dropout.

I’m not a math person. But I am a learner, a teacher, and a mom.

And so I dive in. Before he is awake, I pull out the classwork he didn’t do and skim the questions. I fire up Google and slowly teach myself how to solve each problem. I have pages of messy notes. I copy the formulas we need again and again because otherwise I can’t remember them long enough to teach him.

By the time he wakes up, I’m ready. I work through some of the classwork problems myself, showing him how. We do the homework together. And then he is ready to take the test on his own.

He knows I failed eighth-grade math.

“It’s too bad you can’t take eighth-grade math all over again,” he tells me. “If you could take it now, you’d totally get an A.”

I like math now, find real pleasure in working a problem through to a solution, in understanding what was so opaque to me then, but I still wouldn’t call myself a math person. It doesn’t come easily to me, even now. I often have to watch three or four different tutorials before I really understand a concept. And I have no retention: what’s clearly in my brain on Tuesday has somehow disappeared by Wednesday, so I will have to learn it all over again to do tomorrow’s homework.

But that’s okay. Even though eighth-grade math is hard, my son is still a math person.

This post resonated with me because I have a similar history with math. YouTube videos and Statistics for Dummies helped me survive the stats courses that were a part of my doc program. I wish I would have had these tools (and Google) years ago:)

It sounds like we had similar paths with math in school. I, too, opted out of math during my senior year of high school. I detested math so much when I was in school that I made sure to apply to a college that didn’t require math as a core curriculum requirement. (I landed up taking Logic and Statistics instead.) Later on, when I taught fifth grade, I found TERC Investigations. It made so much sense to me. If only math had been presented like that to me as a kid…!

I am impressed that you have impressed your son enough that he is awarding you an A! 🙂

You go! Love that you are learning more about the power of math rather than just its terrors.

You are some mom, getting up early to do math, so you can do it with your son later!!! You totally get an A, not only in math, but also in the mom department!

What a wonderful and dedicated mom you are! I feel very fortunate that my son didn’t rely on me for help with his 8th grade math. I never really did poorly in math, but like you, I don’t feel I’m a math person. And I really have no desire to be.

Wonderful blog! Three cheers for you! I can totally relate; I could have written this blog–as a matter of fact I did write something very similar today. I got lucky and my dearest wish was granted–both my children were good at math and I never had to go through what you are going through. Oh, a mother’s love! I loved his comment that you would have gotten an A. : ) Keep up the great work, and good luck to your son!

That’s love. Also, you are a teacher through and through, for sure.