Yes, I Can

Is there something you just don't believe you can do? Something that seems WAY out of reach for you? Read on as Mary Byers shares her struggle with math, and how she was moved to continue in something she didn't think she could do.


Yes, I Can

By Mary Byers

The teacher who influenced me most is the one who taught the subject I loved least: math. It intimidated me. It didn't come easily. And though I love words, story problems were (and still are) the bane of my existence.

Mr. Luepke wasn't typical in terms of math teachers. Though he cared about formulas and algorithms, he was more concerned that we saw the value of math and how it impacts our lives. He wanted us to see it in nature, at the grocery store, on our paychecks - anywhere and everywhere there was math. He knew that not all of us would be using it on a daily basis. He also knew that the ability to reason and persist were two traits that would serve us well - long after we put our last math book away.

Boy, I couldn't wait to put the math book away! My high school required three years of math and I longed for the end of my junior year when I could officially take a sabbatical from adding and multiplying and solving trigonometry problems. I submitted my schedule and looked forward to a math-free year.

Then Mr. Luepke hunted me down.

"I noticed you're not taking a math class next year," he said.

I smiled smugly, "That's right. Since I don't have to, I'm not going to."

"Mary, Mary. I know you are college bound. Taking a year off would be a mistake. You'll be out of practice and handling a college course without the consistency of working problems will make it much harder than it needs to be."

I set my jaw. "I appreciate your concern but it's so hard for me!" I wailed. "I don't think you know what it's like not to be a math head."

He was unmoved. He urged me to sign up for a class and told me he'd be looking for my name on the list. I was irritated. Majorly irritated.

I turned to leave and then Mr. Luepke said something very unlike a math teacher. "Mary, I know you think you can't do it, but I know you can."

I know you can.

Mr. Luepke's words have echoed in my mind. Not just once. Not twice. Not even three times. But every single time I think the words, "I can't," I hear his voice in my mind, "Mary, I know you think you can't do it but I know you can." And because of him, I do.

Today, I'm able to do simple math problems in my head without a calculator or a piece of paper. And story problems have gotten a bit easier. I even answered a trivia question correctly last week. (What's the square root of 121? Answer: 11.)

I think of Mr. Luepke when these things happen. And I also think of him when I do something I wasn't sure I could do.

Mary Byers, CAE, is the author of How to Say No ... And Live to Tell About It and The Mother Load: How to Meet Your Own Needs While Caring for Your Family. She is the former editor of FullFill digizine.

This article first appeared in FullFill, Fall/Winter 2012. You can read back issues of FullFill online.

© Elisa Morgan 2020

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