For my entire education, from elementary school through college, I struggled with math. When I was a young boy, my parents couldn't afford tutors So I had to get help from my mom, who was patient but knew only so much, and my dad, who was an engineer and just couldn't fathom that any son of his could barely add 2 plus 2.
Of course, things only got worse when those crusty teachers of the '50s and '60s saw how dense I was.
I had a near-death experience sophomore year in geometry, where my teacher loved to publicly humiliate me at the blackboard or when she passed back tests I'd failed.
My parents managed to get me a tutor then, and I passed by the skin of my teeth when an old practice test the tutor gave me turned out to be the actual final. It was just a fortuitous coincidence, but I tasted sweet revenge when the sadistic teacher returned the test with a perfect score and couldn't humiliate me.
Thankfully, I had further math requirements in high school. Math tormented me once more in my freshman year college. But I got a student tutor and passed -- barely.
So what's prompted my true confessions about math? It's very simple.
As a substitute teacher in Fairfield the previous five years and now as a full-time sub for a charter school in Bridgeport, I've covered math hundreds of times. But in Fairfield, teachers left detailed plans, students worked mostly in groups and only about five students ever asked for help.
But now, the heat is on. For the next 10 days I am backing up a teaching assistant in freshman and sophomore math. And I can already sense disappointment from some students when they ask a question, and I just don't get it. Even the teaching assistant looked a little frustrated.
So after several sessions of just sitting like a log and not being able to offer much assistance, I decided to face my math demons straight on. I called my friend Bob, an engineer who has taught college math. I told him I didn't understand the day-to-day work and was frustrated.
He was happy to help, and I've already met with him once. He was very patient, thinks I'm dense but not hopeless and helped me feel comfortable. Bob has a terrific analytical mind and infinite patience.
So far, he's helped me to begin understanding the process behind math and how to arrive at solutions.
As he explained things, I was pleasantly surprised to find I was absorbing more than I thought. Without the criticism and humiliation from the punitive old biddies from Chicago schools of the '50s and '60s, this 69-year-old numbers dunce may just have a shot at finally building a math foundation.
Right now, Bob and I are covering basic things such as fractions, percentages, whole numbers, exponents and distributive problems, using the same day-to-day worksheets the students do.
Before my first meeting with Bob, I actually picked up an Algebra book and read the introduction along with a few chapters.
Decades after my math failures, I found the material much more interesting than I expected. It was a freeing experience to finally face my demons and jump into the frying pan. This is a mission for me. I need to prove to myself that for the first time since I completed basic college math in 1963.
My boss chuckled when I mentioned I was getting tutored, but he appreciated the initiative. He reassured me that I needn't worry about being math proficient, but I explained that the students deserved the most prepared teacher. He understood.
By mid-week, with just one lesson under my belt and more self-assurance in math than I've ever had, I walked into the classroom feeling confident. I was ready and waited to see if any students asked questions.
Only time will tell, but I absolutely intend to succeed. It's time for math and me to call a truce.
Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his "In the Suburbs" appears each Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.