When I received my notification back in November, I was given the placement of secondary math. My first reaction was something along the lines, “Oh, crap.”

I am not a math person. At all.

Some people in life can do math and just rock the hell out of it. Other people stare blankly at it and go through the motions and just pray they’re doing it the right way. I fall into that second category. All through schoool, I was on the “advanced math track,” but I always towards the bottom of the advanced pack. Math for me, for lack of a better term, was just plain hard. At times, miserably hard. I have no idea how I made it through AP Chem when I was struggling to stay afloat in trig at the same time.

I made my feelings about math teaching math known early on–as in within a few hours of accepting. I made a very clear and logical argument about why math was not a good placement: I haven’t had math since high school (I didn’t have to take math in college because of my placement scores and ACT score), I don’t use anything beyond basic math in my everyday life, and that I had serious doubts about my ability to pass the secondary math MTTC.

I gave it all a try and studied more then I’ve studied in years, but I wasn’t progressing from the initial practice tests I took. If anything, I was actually doing worse, since I was stressing beyond belief trying to study for all of my tests and work 40+ hours a week. At that point, I threw in the towel, to some extent. I told the regional office I couldn’t do secondary math. If I was teaching it, I’d probably have the kids leaving doing worse then they were when they started. So they told I could do elementary math. Okay, that’s cool. I understand algebra.

And oh, how was I mistaken. The elementary math test isn’t that different from the secondary test. Elementary lacks calculus and trig. Beyond that, they were incredibly similar. So despite the fact that I studied an awful lot, I failed the elementary math test. Failed with an absolutely miserable score. I did A-OK on the general elementary test and can be placed with that, but I now have to retake elementary math again and things still aren’t clicking. I’m not trying to be negative or give up on myself, but seriously, how bad do I have to be for people to realize what I already know.

I’m not going to say what my score was because of how embarassingly low it was. I’m ashamed of it. I wasn’t even close the the 220 needed to pass. It would reflect badly on me, my family, my education, and probably cause schools to ask for my degrees back.

I’ve now been experiencing a constant math anxiety. I’m already being treated for anxiety; it’s not like my psychiatrist can give me something else just for math. On top of everything, there’s the fact that just because I pass doesn’t mean I’m capable of teaching math. Let’s say I manage to hit the elusive 220. In my mind, that doesn’t mean I should be teaching kids math, especially kids who, statistically speaking, are lagging behind in math. Like all TFA CMs, I’m afraid of not being good enough. But I’m also afraid of the distinct reality that I honestly am NOT good enough to teach people math. I understand the need for math teachers in Detroit. Trust me, I’ve lived in the Detroit area for most of my life and I know how great the need for math and science teachers is. But I also know how important it is to have good candidates teaching those areas. I don’t think I fall into that category.

I’m amazing at the stuff I do. I know more stuff about social studies and the humanities then most people do. I can throw out those facts in 20 different ways. But math? I can’t say I have that ability. I can’t just give up because that isn’t an option. I know the struggles that many of the Detroit CMs have faced and have heard about the situations they’ve been put in. I don’t want to be in that boat (obviously, no one does).

This isn’t something that I’ve just come to a conclusion on. I’ve felt this was since I was about 11. But now, the stakes are so much higher.

I’m so sorry about your frustration. Do you truly want to teach for the long term? If so, I urge you to pursue teaching an alternative way (regular credential or fast track, intern credential) and teach in an area you are comfortable in (elementary or other secondary subject). A regular teaching program will let you explore teaching in different grades to figure out what you like. You don’t have to let TFA dictate what you teach. It is tough to get out there and find a teaching job on your own, but you can do it with some courage and end up happier. I’m also a career changer and in my 4th year teaching elementary school. Good luck.