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.

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