Know when…

crayonsWhen I was a kid the mantra around the house was, “Color outside of the lines.” My father must have said that phrase to me while I was still in the womb because it stuck in my brain like a tick. For the first few years of school I thought it actually meant to color outside of the lines. My penmanship was all over the place and my teachers started wringing their hands about this kid who couldn’t follow instructions.

I guess I sometimes took things too literally. I met my match in third grade though when Ms. Simmons kept me in during recess to practice my swoops, coiled circles, and upper and lower case letters. It was a battle of the wills that I tested daily, handing in my barely legible assignments only to demonstrate perfect control of the cursive practice while the other children played kickball. I wanted her to know that I could do it but on my own schedule.

It was during this time that I cut back on my writing while at my desk. As my classmates carried over numbers, dutifully scribbling them down, I taught myself to log these numbers in my head. My teachers began to suspect that I was cheating since I only presented answers without any proof of work. I remember having to take more than one test in an empty classroom to prove I could do long-division without making notes.

When I hit high school I was welcomed to the Advanced Placement track for several courses. The rest of the AP kids always seemed stressed because of the amount of work they needed to memorize. Calculus seemed to create the most mini-breakdowns among my peers. My trick to staying calm was to figure out the answer using the prescribed method and then work each example from different angles until I found a pattern that was different from the solution the teacher provided. I figured that if I could make sense of the problem in my own way, it would make me stand out.

It did. Back to a separate room for tests. Again the teachers thought that I was cheating, especially since I could save time by working out solutions in my head rather than making and examining notes.

As my high school years went by I found that my grades began to slip. My methods were not as successful as they were before but I was entrenched, more reluctant to write anything down. The issue was it was becoming more difficult to track the numbers around my brain. By the time I sat through my first class of advanced calculus at university I knew I was done for. The problem now was that I had not practiced the basics enough to fall back on them when my methods failed. I relearned pre-calc ahead of every class.

One night as I was cracking open another high school textbook on my college desk, when my father called. We hadn’t talked about the minutiae of my studying for years but he took the opportunity to set me straight. “I said ‘know when to color outside of the lines.’” That’s when I discovered loopholes and decided to take a few law classes.

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