Math can Save your Day

My eighth grade math teacher told me once, when it was my turn to work general math problems on the blackboard, “If you can count to ten, you can do math, if you can walk and chew gum at the same time, you can do math, if you can come to school and find your way home, you can do math now work this problem pachuco!” (The term pachuco is the equivalent to the current term “cholo” in our Hispanic culture during the fifties.)

During my elementary school days, I spent more time in the arroyos (creeks caused by erosion due to rain) fishing and hunting than in school. I also spent a lot of time working in the fields as a migrant worker. Do you think I liked school during those days? Don’t take me wrong. I did like school. My favorite grade was the eighth grade. I liked it so much, I even stayed their twice! Can you imagine what kind of educational background I had during my elementary school days? I entered the ninth at the age of sixteen since I had been retained in the eighth grade the previous year. By the time I wanted to concentrate on learning basic algebra, it was very hard for me since I had a very defective background in the math prerequisites and learning in general. Many other distractions such as playing football, peers, and a job didn’t help.

I could count, add, subtract, divide, and multiply, but that was it. For that, I am grateful to my eighth grade math teachers who used to beat me with a red stick every time I got a wrong answer, when I was called to work general math problems on the blackboard. I used to recall the long division process by linking each step to the sound of her rough German voice and the pain I suffered caused by each strike of the red stick on my head and shoulders. No doubt that this was child abuse at its best, but it resulted in something that I now value and appreciate very much. I have no complaints about Mrs. Edna Kennedy; on the other hand, I thank her for taking the time to care for me even though it was in a painful way. A lot students , who benefited from her way of caring for us, got to love her in a very special way and will always remember her for the rest of our lives. We even named an elementary school in her honor in our school district: Edna Kennedy Elementary!

My first try at introduction to algebra was a complete disaster. It was like taking a math class in the Chinese language. Did I pass? I most certainly did not. I tried again with another teacher and I did a better, but not good enough. Now that I look back to those stressful days, the reason I passed algebra in high school by a shoe string, was because I memorized steps just long enough to pass without comprehension. For all practical purposes, I didn’t learn it properly. When you learn something only to pass a test, if you don’t use it, you lose it within due time.

After I came back from the war in Viet Nam, I decided to enter a junior college in Uvalde, Texas in 1968 after I was discharged from the Marine Corps. A counselors recommended that I take algebra 101, but I decided to try regular college algebra. Guess what? I flunked it! I lost time and money as a result of my bad choice. So I wound up in basic algebra 101 as I should have in the first place. But this time, I decided to buckle down and learn it well. I made sure that I understood every mathematical concept every inch of the way. When I found out had made an A in that course, I was thrilled with joy!

I became a tutor to my other veteran friends for the price of a hamburger and a soda. This gave me an opportunity to practice and learn more about algebra. The more I tutored, the more proficient I became in basic algebra. I was also making friends and earning my lunch at the same time. That is and was important! Lunch money in college was hard to come by during those days.

I than signed up for regular college algebra and passed it. I also took trigonometry and passed it. Than I began to tutored regular college algebra and trigonometry to other students that were having problem with these courses. I could now order fries along with my hamburger and soda. That was forty years ago!

I continued on with my college education and graduated from Sam Houston State University with a B.S degree in Criminal Justice, Law Enforcement and Police Science in 1974. When I returned to Eagle Pass, I got a part-time job teaching law enforcement courses at night at the same junior college that I attended in 1968-71. I also worked as a deputy sheriff for the county up until the sheriff that hired me lost the election of 1976. The new incoming sheriff cleaned housed and appointed some of his friends that helped him get elected. In the meantime, I was without a job. That is when I started to substitute in the local district to make ends meet financially. I substituted in almost all the grades during that year. I noticed that there was a lot of room for improvement in the field of teaching. A lot of the students reminded of me when I was in the elementary grades: lost in math.

One day when I was called to substitute in math and science classes our high school, the principle, a very strict man, came to check on me; he walked in and listened for a little while, then left. Then he came back during the conference period and asked me about my educational background. I told him about it. He asked how many hours of math I had on my transcript and I proudly told him that I had 9 hours up to trigonometry, including algebra 101. He then asked me if I wanted a full-time job as a math and science teacher with full pay on an emergency certificate for three years. I took it and started the next day. I taught math and science for three years at Eagle Pass High School in Eagle Pass, Texas, the same high school that I struggled to graduate from in 1966! My knowledge of math saved the day for me. It got me a job!

My story in this article should answer the question “why is it important to study math.” My knowledge of math paid for my lunch while I was in college and got me a job as a teacher when I needed a job. My capability to teach science came from my knowledge of math. I made a promise to mother, when she was alive, that I would learn chemistry and physics on my own, now that I could do the math required by these courses. Learning about chemistry and physics has enlightened and enriched my life; thanks to math. I can read scientific articles and understand them and enjoy reading them: thanks math for that ability. I can relate and connect scientific principles to my field of teaching which is criminal justice at Eagle Pass High School, an academically recognized school by the State of Texas for the year 2008! I can also tutor and help student that are having problems understanding math concepts, including my twelve year old daughter. These are only few of the reasons why it is important to study math. Math facilitates the teaching and learning process and enlighten the life of a student!