Mariam’s Story

Storyteller: Mariam (she/her/hers), 22, California

"My name is Mariam and I graduated from San Diego State University in May of this year, with a degree in civil engineering. My experience with math, from pre K to 12th grade, has been a rocky one. Well, it had its ups and downs. I would say all the way up until eighth grade, I had a really positive experience with math where I really excelled in it without much effort. So whatever I learned in the classroom, I didn't really have to go back home and really study it because I just got it. And so when I would come to take the exams, or when I would go do homework, or any of that, anything of that nature, I would get A's without really having to put much of an effort into it. And so I guess from a young age until the eighth grade, that was kind of my experience with math where I’d just get it. And that was it.

And then that experience kind of took a huge turn once I entered high school, and I had to take a geometry class with a particular teacher. I didn't really understand the concept of actually having to go home and study for a particular subject, just because I had just aced school without it. And so when I was taking that geometry class, I was having a lot of trouble. I wasn't understanding the concepts. It didn't make sense to me because it didn’t really seem applicable. But as a ninth grader, does geometry really make sense to you in the sense of the world? How the world operates? Not really and so it was boring to me. I didn't enjoy it. 

The classroom was frightening as well. The teacher would randomly call on people to answer questions very randomly. And if you didn't get it right then you kind of are embarrassed in front of the whole classroom not just because you didn't get the right answer but because he almost... he didn't yell but he would say, “Why aren't you paying attention? Why haven't you been studying? Why are you in my classroom?” Things along that nature where you know you don't want to be picked on but you don't know if you are, so every day going into the classroom was so nerve wracking because [I thought], “Oh am I gonna be picked on today? Am I not going to get on today?” And then if he calls on you and if you get it right, then you get all the praises and if you don't get it right then it feels like it's the most embarrassing thing that's happened to you. 

And when it came to taking the first test, I got a number in the 30s. Percentage wise, I believe it was 38% or 32% that I got in my first geometry test in high school. And, of course it ruined me. And I looked at my paper, and a lot of it was technical. It was just some technicalities that he took a lot of points off, where I had gotten the right answer, but I didn't place it in the box, but then I also did get a lot of things wrong, just flat out wrong. Like I didn't get it. And so I went to talk to him and I said, “What can I do? I need to pass your class. What can I do to pass your class?” And he said, “Well, my advice to you is to drop my class, because it's not for you, you don't belong in my class, you need to go to a lower math class,” because it was an honors geometry class. And I said, “I'll think about it.” 

But deep down, I knew I wasn't going to do that. I was going to finish the class. And so I, that was the first time I went home. And I just looked at myself in the mirror and said, “Mariam, you need to actually study.” And so for that entire semester, I studied my butt off. And yet, when it came to the very last, when it came to my final grade, even though my first exam was in the 30s, after that, all of my exams were 90% and above, I still ended up with a C in that first semester. But then the next semester, I got an A in this class. And I had talked to him and I said, “I was a straight A student,” so I had all A's, except for geometry. My first semester, I had a C, and that was because of that one first test. And I asked if he could just please drop it. I mean, it was just one test. And, and he said, “No.” And what really stuck with me was that when I was trying to go to my sophomore year, with the classes, and he said, “Don't think about taking honors class,” he said. “Try going to the lower level,” even after all the other exams I had to in this class were above 90%. He still saw me in that first exam that I was just that student." 

And he said, ‘Well, my advice to you is to drop my class, because it's not for you, you don't belong in my class, you need to go to a lower math class.’