Thursday, June 28, 2012

opportunity, hard work, and summer semester

There is a quote by Thomas Edison that I have been thinking about a lot lately:
"People often miss out on opportunity because it shows up in overalls and looks like work."

Now, I am not a big fan of Mr. Edison, but I have liked this quote since I stumbled across it back in middle school. It is quite true that opportunity requires hard work. It is also true that many people don't understand that link.

As I progress through summer semester classes, I have found myself thinking even more about this particular relationship between hard work and opportunity. It is no secret that I am having to work very hard in order to achieve good grades in these math classes. I am also having to work very hard to maintain my motivation for the classes since the material makes me want to rip my hair out and quit trying. This made me wonder, if so much hard work is going in, shouldn't there be an equal amount of opportunity created? What exactly am I getting out of all of this struggle?

Obviously, I am getting credit for the course and fulfilling degree requirements. That is kind of a big deal. :)

But other than that, am I really gaining anything other than stress and tension headaches?

Last night I decided to take a break from the craziness and listen to some relaxing music while soaking my feet in some hot water. It helps me clear my head and work through complex situations. As I sat there on the edge of my tub, I tried to look at my summer courses (specifically my horrific algebra course) from a new perspective to see what opportunities I might gain from them.

I came to understand that my terrible, condescending, rude, unhelpful algebra professor is yet another opportunity to learn what NOT to do as a teacher. This is almost more important than learning the good things. If you know what absolutely ruins a student's motivation, you can focus on developing strategies that don;t include those things.

I've also realized that through tutoring some friends on the weekends over material from my statistics class I have gradually been building my confidence in the subject matter. This is a real life reinforcement of the "students learn by doing" principle I have stated in my teaching philosophy. I inadvertently put myself in a position to test out that philosophy and build a solid foundation for my argument. That's quite an opportunity.

Finally, I feel like, deep down, these math courses are giving me the opportunity to better understand my own learning process and how my mind functions. These subjects are not easy for me and require a lot of effort just to get a passing grade. That knowledge of best study practices and discipline will only serve me well in the future as I finish my degree and as I attempt to help others learn how to learn.

Taking the time to really think this through really helped me feel better about the situation as a whole. I still don't like my algebra professor, I still wish I didn't have to sit through two more weeks of 3 hour classes, and I will still be thrilled when the semester is over, but I feel slightly more in control of the situation now. I feel that this craziness and frustration might really be worth more than what will appear on my transcripts. It may not be glamorous, but it is useful and that's all I can really hope for.

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