Math lessons

by Lorien E. Menhennett

Use row operations to find the multiplicative inverse of the following matrix. 

Those were my instructions from my precalculus review book. Multiplicative? Inverse? Matrix? Say what?

Don’t get me wrong. I really do enjoy math. And I’m pretty good at it: I got through calculus in high school, and even got college credit for it by taking the Advanced Placement exam (I got the highest possible score of 5).

Why the regression to precalculus? Well, I haven’t been in a math class for more than a decade – it was last century, as a matter of fact (1999) – so I’m a little rusty. And I need calculus for physics, which I hope to take next year. So I started with the basics (college algebra) and now am about two-thirds through precalc.

I had no problems with combination functions, rate of decay, or slant asymptopes. (I really do like that word, asymptopes …) But something about matrices just gets me all hung up like an old coiled plastic telephone cord. It’s terribly aggravating.

But even more frustrating than not understanding something right off the bat is not having anyone to help me. I’m on my own. Me and my (McGraw-Hill!) review book. Which, in this weather, seems to be worth more as kindling than as a curriculum. (And no, that’s not ex-employee bitterness. At least, I don’t think so.)

I need a flesh-and-blood teacher. Someone who can see where I’m going wrong and can help me work through it. Books can’t anticipate everyone’s difficulties, meaning they can’t address everyone’s difficulties, either. That’s just how it works.

I will make it through matrices and on to conic sections. And I will make it through conic sections too, and trigonometry, and the chapter on series and sequences. And then I will be done with precalculus and ready for *gulp* calculus (again).

I will make it through not as much because I’m intelligent (although I am, and that definitely helps), but because I am determined and resourceful. I keep trying, even when things are hard. And when something doesn’t make sense, I keep searching for the right teaching/learning method that will make sense to me. If I had a human teacher, that would be much easier. But since I am on my own until this fall, that means searching for a teacher whose name begins with “http” or “www.” Which is better than nothing, but pales in comparison to a real person who can work with me and help me understand what I don’t.

Teachers are invaluable. I am fortunate that along with giving me a solid educational foundation (one that is slowly returning to life), mine taught me to not give up. That’s a lesson you don’t forget.