College Math Teaching

September 18, 2014

The death of a dream

Filed under: editorial — Tags: , , — collegemathteaching @ 6:02 pm

I chuckled when I posted on social media: it has struck me that I had been lifting weights for 42 years (starting in the 8’th grade and being consistent). I was a bit surprised that, after 42 years of weight lifting, that I am so weak! (*)

So, I found at photo of the gym I used. During that period of my life, I just “knew” that I was going to be a professional football player. So I ran, lifted weights and….well…still got run over by those who were destined to play football at the division I level. I simply do not have an athlete’s body…but I really didn’t come to grips with that until I was a senior in high school.

That was a downer for me. The dream died. I still remember getting mail from the football program at the school I ended up attending…it was a form to order tickets. 😦

The point: though I was consistently considerably slower and weaker than those destined to play at the next level, I stayed in denial. If only I ran more sprints, lifted more weights, etc.

What does that have to do with today?

I just gave back my first set of calculus exams. With every group comes a few students who…well, they are going to be an engineer (in some cases, their parents think so). But, try as they might, calculating: \frac{d}{dx} sin(x^2 +1) is tough for them. \int \frac{arctan(x)}{x^2 + 1} dx = is all but impossible for them. Yes, I am talking about the ones who attend classes, study and come to office hours.

It is like me with my 40 yard dash: I did sprints, I ran hills, but when I tried, the stopwatch still said 5.9. Yes, I was that slow; much slower than a typical college lineman.

The reality is that one’s dreams are often out of reach, and sometimes, students find that out in their first college level calculus class.

(*)disclaimer: I am 55 years old, weigh about 183 pounds and regularly do 5 sets of 10 pull ups, and 3 reps with 180 on the bench press; my lifetime best is 310 (when I weighed 230 lbs), which I can’t even take off of the racks now.


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