How My Math Teacher Taught Me Everything Except Math

Photo by Jonah Shabsis

Like every kid, I was required to take a math course every year at school—before and after the diagnoses of my learning disabilities. As I went from counting to multiplication tables, my math skills got worse. As I struggled, I heard the mantra “work harder” from every adult around me. We tried charts, color coding, songs, lectures, pleading, bargaining, scolding, educational therapists, tutoring—carrots and sticks.

Nothing worked. It was like trying to teach a blind person how to see.

Every failure hit me emotionally. Long after all my classmates had passed their twelves times tables tests, I was being kept in from recess to practice my threes. I was frustrated, angry, and filled with quite a bit of self-hate. I must not be working hard enough … right?

Eventually, I made my way to Bridges Academy, where teachers specialized in working with twice-exceptional kids. Being in a school that understood my learning disabilities was one thing. Undoing years of negative conditioning was another. I had already developed the habit of hiding math homework, mysteriously going missing during tests or secretly using cheat sheets, and skillfully manipulating conversations away from math.

Throughout middle school, I had zero work ethic and didn’t want one. Not for math. I treated it as a joke, clowning in class or shrugging it off with an uncaring attitude. I preferred to self-sabotage rather than risk failure and humiliation. I would turn in homework with elaborate drawings explaining why math doesn’t matter. Every time I could, I would ditch class and wander about the school. Or, when forced to sit in class, I would sulk, simply refusing, and if called on, would throw a temper tantrum inappropriat...

 

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About Elinor Shapiro

Elinor Shapiro is a multimedia artist and native of Los Angeles. She studied fine art at California State University Northridge, where she developed her individual voice using charcoal, pastels, ink, acrylic, and oils. She then relocated to France, where she is associate director at the artist residency Chateau Orquevaux. In the midst of the pandemic she temporarily moved to New York City, where she is self-isolating and pursuing new forms of expression, combining words, figures, and emotions to represent the many facets of her artistic voice.