Option #1. Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.
In fourth grade, the teacher challenged my class to solve fifty multiplication problems in one minute. The first time she gave us this "pop quiz," no one scored higher than a fifty percent. That night, I asked my parents to write up multiplication questions for me to practice because I could not accept failure in the subject I felt I should be best at. Math was the only subject which was familiar to me before I came to the United States. My parents, lacking an American education, could only teach me one subject - math. If I could not handle math class, then that would signify to me that I could not handle the switch in education systems on even the most minor level.
Two quizzes later, my teacher praised me as the first student to score an A on the quiz. The quiz turned math into a constant in my life that anchored my self-confidence. It sounds great at first: the struggling foreign student comes up on top and gains self-esteem.
There was one problem: that new self-esteem closely attached itself to the title of number one. It became a slight obsession that soon turned stressful in high school, where several people were taking algebra-II or pre-calculus while I was in geometry, the typical freshman course. I could not catch up unless I devoted a disproportionately large share of my time to math.
At first, I spent nights studying ahead and engraving formulas in my mind, but I still was a dwarf in comparison to other people in my school and math competitions. Hundreds of hours later, I asked myself, "Why am I doing this?"
There was no need to prove myself anymore. I had already demonstrated that I could do well academically through years of passing accelerated classes in all subjects. My math classes had no challenges that required extra studying. Slowly it became obvious to me that I liked to play with the patterns in mathematics more than receiving any top honors. But I couldn't enjoy math if I stressed over it, so I focused less on reaching the top and more on understanding and appreciating concepts better through retracing their proofs. As an additional bonus, I performed better in competitions.
My newly-realized fascination with math was something that needed to be shared. I knew my current abilities would not make any new discoveries in mathematics anytime soon, but I felt that I should still contribute to the subject and did so through helping others understand math better. I dedicated my after-school hours to the math club's new student-run tutoring program and the disorganized pre-calculus competition team that needed a mentor. Teaching became the new outlet for my passion.
One of my students smiled after she solved the length of a line between two points using the Pythagorean Theorem instead of the more abstract "distance formula" that she was taught. Math had just become a little easier for her and her confidence was apparent when she later explained my lesson to her friend. Everyone needs a bit of confidence in math; that's what dares them to experiment with patterns they see which is the most enjoyable part of math for me that I want to spread.
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