Starting my senior year of college, I received a phone call from the university’s College of Education. Apparently my two math classes (Liberal Arts and Statistics) were not enough for a teaching degree; I had to take College Algebra. During my AA, I avoided College Algebra like the plague, and now here I was, with no other option.
I perused the catalog and the only time slot that would fit my schedule was with one of the toughest professors on campus, Dr. Erle. I knew I had no other choice, so I signed up and began the class. Dr. Erle was a no nonsense kind of teacher. She allowed a short window of time at the beginning of class to ask questions about homework and if we missed that time slot, we were out of luck. Once she began teaching the new material, she sequentially laid it out and moved ahead.
The first couple of weeks were not too bad. I maintained my usual seat in the back of the room. At the end of every lecture, Dr. Erle assigned optional homework. She never took a grade and didn’t ask to see it. Ever. I was baffled. Why would a teacher assign optional homework? And even stranger, she assigned the problems that had the answers listed in the back of the book.
Week three came around, the reviewing went away, and new material was presented. I was totally lost. I decided to go to the tutor lab and try some of this optional homework to see if I could figure out how to do it. I talked to one of the tutors and got some guidance, but I still did not understand. I checked my answers with the ones in the back of the book and realized I still needed help. I knew I had to pass this class and if I had 13 more weeks of struggling, my success rate seemed pretty bleak. So, I made a decision to try something new.
The next class, I threw pride out of the window and moved to the front row of the room. When Dr. Erle asked if anyone had any questions about the homework, I slowly slid my hand up. She proceeded to break the concept down into chunks that finally made sense. I was able to follow her, take notes, and not get lost. I realized right then, Dr. Erle knew her stuff I needed to take a chance.
So this became my new normal. For the first time in my life I chose to do optional homework after every class. I went to the tutor lab, often staying for hours. Then I came to the next class and became the annoying person who asked too many questions. But for the first time in a long time, I became successful at math.
Showing up every day and taking notes didn’t make me successful in Dr. Erle’s class. It was important, but going the extra mile, putting in those hours of practice, that is was mattered in the end. Humbling myself and changing my attitude had to happen in order for me to reach the place where asking questions was okay. I had to change the way I did things in order to be successful. I had to do the optional homework. I had to put in the extra time.
Sometimes showing up and doing things the way we have always done them isn’t going to work. Sometimes it’s going to require hours of practice, humility and an attitude change. Sometimes we will need to ask for help and do all of the optional homework in order to be truly successful. We will always get out what we put in. Are you putting in the extra time to be successful? Maybe it’s time to move to the front of the classroom and do that optional homework.