I was excited to finally take a graduate level math course. I had taken so many math education courses that I just couldn’t read another article, analyze any more research data, or write another teaching platform.
The course was abstract algebra. On the first day of class the professor said “if you do not have a math background you should leave now.” A student raised her hand and said she took calculus in undergrad, but she didn’t have a math degree. The professor coolly responded “then you should leave.” He was convincing; she left immediately. He looked around the room. No one moved. He discussed the syllabus and informed us of the intensity that lay before us. He warned us that it would take three hours of studying for every hour we spent in class (6 hours of class each week), just to get a C. I looked on as my heart pounded in my chest, but I remained calm. I had a degree in math surely, I could handle abstract algebra.
Boy was I in for it. By the end of the first class, I was ready to withdraw! By the second class, two more students left. The professor said we needed to hang in there or the class would be canceled (it was during the summer session). I really needed the course, but I wanted out! As we all looked around the room wondering if we should go or stay, he assured us that everything would be fine. It wasn’t.
By the end of that class, I called my friend, John, frantically sputtering words that were incoherent. After I calmed down he encouraged me to go forward with the class. He said “you can do this.” I shook my head and agreed at the same time. I told him I would see. I was angry with him for making it sound so easy!
By the middle of the third class, I’d decided to withdraw. I couldn’t take it. The class was too difficult and I didn’t have enough time to master the material. I didn’t for the life of me remember abstract algebra being this difficult. I called John and told him I was finished. He calmly asked “what would you tell your students?” I stopped walking, or pacing. I thought about what he asked. I answered, through clenched teeth, “I would tell them to spend more time studying (the recommended 3 hours for every hour spent in class), create index cards, go to office hours, complete all homework assignments, and read the lessons in advance. Huh!!! It made sense. I would put my own advice to the test!
I spent about 18 hours each week on this course. I even took my books and index cards on vacation in West Virginia! I had highlighters, pencils, pens, erasers, sharpeners, index cards, the textbook, my notebook, and anything else I thought I would need to study. When I returned from vacation, we took the midterm and I got a B. That was the first time in my life I was relieved to get a B on a math exam. As the professor passed me my exam, he mumbled “I expected you to get an A. Get an A on the final.” I said “I will.” And I did!
After the semester was over, I emailed the professor about my grade. He emailed me that I had an A on the final and in the course. He also included that I did better than the other students, by far. Yes!!!
My lesson is now I know for sure that the advice I give my students actually works!!! At times we are faced with unexpected challenges. If we stop long enough and listen, we will hear the advice we would give someone else. If we take our own advice, we will overcome that challenge. Of course, provided the advice is good advice.
What was an unexpected challenge that prompted you to take your own advice?