My name is Saramoira and I’m a math major. It’s true. I’m a math major. I study math. On purpose.
What I really want to talk to you about today is the kind of reaction I get when I tell people I’m a math major. I say “Oh, I study math, I’m a math major” and I usually get responses like this: “Oh, my brain’s just not built for that.” “I’m more creative.” “Oh, wow…” “You must be a genius [whispering] I’m not a genius.”
“I’m just too slow at it, you know, I just can’t I mean I’m just too slow! I’m just too slow.” “I just ehhh, just never really nnnnn mmmmm.” “It’s genetic.” “Oh, I’m just not a number person.”
“Ugh, I hate math.” Okay. So here’s the deal. Math is hard. It is.
We all know this. It’s not like we go around speaking math all day, and then like, can just switch in and out of it all the time. No no no!
No! We have to stop and switch gears and change what we’re doing and that can be really confusing. It’s as if we were having a wonderful conversation and then all of the sudden I stopped and asked you to write me a poem. In Russian.
And you don’t know Russian! So you have to stop and learn some basic Russian, and then try to figure out what kind of poem I want, and maybe I’m helping you out, and maybe I’m trying to explain what’s going on, but there are some Russian words that don’t really translate into English very well… That’s really hard! And math can kind of feel like that when you’re not used to it. In fact, math can kind of feel like that even when you are used to it.
So nobody’s expecting you to, like, come into this world with every mathematical tool ever known to man fully-formed in your brain. That’s just not going to happen. So give yourself a little slack.
You know, no one’s going to expect the right answers all the time. Okay, you know that kid in your class who just knows all the answers and is always raising their hand really fast and just makes everyone feel kind of like, stupid? Right?
Okay. Let’s go back to the Russian poetry analogy. Imagine you’re in a Russian poetry class and there’s a kid in the class whose family speaks Russian. Or maybe they speak, I don’t know, Ukrainian, or something, and that’s really similar, so he has a leg up.
Or maybe, you know, she listens to a lot of Russian music, and just really likes it, and so she’s picked up a lot of stuff. Stop comparing yourself to that person. Seriously. Stop. You have no idea what a student’s background is. Just because they can answer something faster than you can does not mean that they are better than you.
And it does not mean that you are stupid, or that you don’t know how to do whatever skill it is. It means that they’re in a different place than you. That’s really all it is. Math is a skill. Did you know that math a week ago?
Do you know that math now? Do you at least know some of that math now? Anything is, like, a big victory at that point. It’s just like learning how to sing, or dance, or ride a bike, or cook, or something. You might make mistakes.
You might find it’s really hard, you might, I don’t know, fall off the bike! But that doesn’t mean that you will never learn how to do those things, it means that right now, you need more practice. So practice! Ask for help, demand help. Talk to people who seem to know a little bit more than you do, maybe they’ll be able to, you know, give you some advice. If that’s too scary, talk to people that are on the same level as you, and try to get a sense of what you don’t know, and then go to your teacher.