I have always had a good relationship with English because math was never my friend. I had a rather tough time with math starting in elementary school, and during that time, I came to discover that English was my forte.
I went to Bluffview Montessori school, which is a non-traditional, Pre-K through 8th grade charter school right here in Winona. The non-traditional factor about the school comes from the fact that they don’t use traditional ways of teaching students, such as having arranged desks, tests or homework. Instead, students learn from being shown “works” that teach them the major subjects through physical objects and touch. Students are then given the choice of which works they want to work on throughout the school day.
At Bluffview, students are in the same classroom for multiple years, so once they complete Children’s House (preschool-kindergarten), they move to a different classroom in E1 (grades 1st-3rd), then a different one in E2 (grades 4th-6th), and then to one big classroom in Erdkinder (grades 7th-8th).
My first love of English came when I was in E1.
My favorite work during this time was called Grammar Box. It involved writing out sentences and labeling the different parts of speech, such as articles, nouns, verbs, adverbs, pronouns, adjectives, prepositions and conjunctions. Each part of speech was associated with a different shape and color, so you would trace and color in the corresponding shape over the appropriate word in the sentence. I also liked to color, so this was another plus for me.
During this time, I also found a love for journaling and writing. We had weekly journal time as a class where we could write about anything we wanted, mainly to practice our handwriting. After keeping a journal at school, I started to keep many of my own at home. I actually started to write for fun and wrote about pretty much anything: from my day at school to my friends, cats and stuffed animals.
It was also during this time that I saw the ugly side of math. There was a work at school called the Golden Beads, which I still have nightmares about today. I now assume that it had a similar format as the Grammar Box because it associated different numeral places in numbers with different amounts of beads, and its purpose was probably to help with addition and subtraction by allowing students to work on the math problems with physical objects. However, at the time, it made absolutely no sense to me. I rarely ever worked on it alone. I usually made sure that the student I was working with knew what they were doing.
Over the summers during this time, my mom would try to help me stay sharp on my learning, so she bought these at-home workbooks that we would work on together, which had extra practice in the major subjects in school. Although I now appreciate the effort that my mom put in, I will admit that I did not enjoy those learning sessions.
It was during this time that I think my hateful feelings for math came into fruition.
I don’t know if it was because I was an unmotivated student at the time or if my mom was just a tough teacher, but I always remember whenever we would work on math together, it would always escalate to me in tears and my mom yelling at me. It seemed that nothing made sense and whenever I would get something wrong, I would just feel worse. I would start to cry more, and my mom would get even angrier. However, if we worked on something different, like English, it would not be this bad. I seemed to understand things better, and I felt calmer.
Once I got to E2, also known as grades 4th-6th at Bluffview, I was introduced to online standardized tests called the MCAs that we were required to take a couple times a year. The test had three sections: English, Math, and Science. Not surprisingly, the math portion was always my downfall. Because I scored so poorly on the math portion every time I took it, I needed to receive extra help through tutoring.
A few times each week, I would be taken out of the classroom and would work with a tutor who would try to help me learn through math games and short timed math tests. I actually didn’t mind going to these tutoring sessions because some of the games we played were kind of fun, and the tutor was fun to be around. She was an older woman who wore a lot of bold jewelry, which I admired. At home, I even pretended to be her and would put on all my fake jewelry and teach math to invisible students. Sadly, this did not improve my math skills. I continued to need extra math help all the way through the 8th grade.
Once I got to the 7th grade and entered Erdkinder, more traditional ways of learning, such as the use of arranged desks, tests and homework were implemented to help students prepare for high school. This was the first time that I was actually assigned homework and received letter grades. I actually did pretty well and got mostly A’s and B’s in my classes. English was obviously my strong suit and the class I enjoyed the most. I still was not a fan of math, but the worst grade I received in the class was a B. The things that I enjoyed doing the most and felt I was good at were researching and writing papers. This was good for me because researching and writing did not just take place in my English class. I also used it in my science and social studies classes.
Once I got to high school, this same pattern continued. English was always my go-to, and math was my archnemesis. It was not that I truly struggled to understand math as I did when I was younger, but I found that it was not especially appealing to my creativity and reasoning. I discovered that in math there is only one right answer, but in English, and specifically through writing, there can be multiple right answers that you can get to through multiple different ways. You can create sentences that no one else in the world can create exactly the same way, and you can give form to your thoughts and ideas, and especially, in my case, those that you can’t always verbalize.
My skills in researching and writing came in handy during the last semester of my senior year when we were assigned a capstone project that needed to be completed in order for us to graduate. We needed to choose a current issue to either argue for or against and write a research paper about it, then turn our paper into a persuasive speech that we would deliver to our fellow classmates. I was not thrilled about the speech portion of the project because I have always been terrified of public speaking. However, I was fairly confident in my researching and writing abilities, so I decided that I wouldn’t worry too much about the speech portion because finding the best research is one of the ways you make a good speech.
The topic that I chose to research was the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline, which was making news headlines at the time, as its construction was threatening the rights of Native Americans. I thought that the pipeline’s construction was wrong, and that it should be stopped as a way to show solidarity to the Native Americans who were being affected. My research paper was 11 pages long, which was the longest paper I had written at the time. I ended up doing pretty well on the paper, and although I was immensely nervous and my hands were sweating so much they felt like I had just run them under a running faucet while delivering it, I did pretty well on the speech, too. All in all, I left high school feeling fairly confident I was ready for the next step and with even more confidence in my writing abilities.
In college, I had a tough time deciding what I wanted to major in. I remained undecided until the second semester of my sophomore year. Taking Gen-Eds was a rather unexciting time, but it helped me understand what I liked and didn’t like. I enjoyed my College Reading and Writing class that I took the very first semester of my freshman year, and I was not a big fan of the physics and geoscience classes that I took, mostly because they involve math.
Because I scored low on the math portion of the ACT, unsurprisingly, I had to take the dreaded 050 Intermediate Algebra math class before I could take college-level math classes. After eventually and celebratorily completing that course, I took an intro statistics course, and being that it was the first stats class I had ever taken, I was a little intimidated. I assumed that it would be fairly similar to all the other math classes I had taken: I wouldn’t enjoy or easily understand it.
Luckily, I soon realized that writing plays a small role in stats. We often had to explain our answers in writing, and although it was a small part of the assignments and tests, it helped me to better understand the math portion of stats. I could better understand numerical relationships just by writing about them. For this reason, I feel that I understand stats more than I seemed to understand algebra in high school.
Through all this reflecting over my past relationship with English and writing, and a desire to have an opportunity to succeed, I eventually decided to become an English major. This decision was not accompanied by any particular end goal, but rather a move toward improving the skills that I already seem to possess. At this point in time, I am still discovering where I will take my skills in the future, but until then, I will keep doing what I believe I do best, and that is writing.