6 Weeks as a Middle School Instructional Aide

by Brandon Summers | October 11, 2016

After dropping Linear Algebra II in Fall 2015 following my dad’s a stroke, I began considering my options for jobs that do not require a college degree. Being a full-time musician for the last five years wore on me. The grind, the inconsistency– and quite frankly, I was over doing weddings and corporate events (but that’s where the money is). Substitute teaching seemed like the next logical step, and I had a few friends who were already in the game.

I started the application process to be a Clark County School District (CCSD) sub in November. However, the process of being hired/put in the system took several months. One would think that the process of hiring new substitute teachers would be quick, considering there’s a huge shortage and demand for instructors, but no. CCSD has a bad rap for being slow and inefficient when it comes to subs. By the time I was nearing the finish line for being on the substitute teacher roster, I had an offer to be a full-time middle school Instructional Aide at 100 Academy of Excellence (charter school). Yay! (The principal and my mom were friends. The principal used to babysit my brother and I. Thanks mom.)

School Begins

August arrived along with the two weeks of professional development. Before I knew it, I was surrounded by energetic teenagers for seven hours a day, five days a week. Initially I was situated to be with the math teacher, who was coincidentally a graduate of FVSU, the entire day. After two weeks of frequent, unannounced schedule changes, I was placed in the computer lab next door to be the Study Skills instructor. I’m sure you’re wondering what Study Skills is– I was wondering the same thing! Basically, the school needed to compensate for the shortage of middle school teachers, so they created a study hall period. There was little classwork and no homework for several weeks (due to the schedule changes), so it was a free period for students. It was teenage babysitting for me.

Students

I got a crash-course in classroom management and I learned over one hundred names in a few weeks. I also doubled as a hall monitor. I had the students trust and they respected me as a teacher. I genuinely liked the students, even the disruptive ones. I did the best I could, but it was utterly exhausting. I had to raise my voice often and yell way too much. Things got better as time went on, but at the end of each day, all I could do was go home and pass out.

Unfortunately, the disruptive students got way more attention from me than the well-behaved students. I always had to consciously remind myself to thank the quiet students for paying attention and staying focused. This is not to say that all the disruptive students were bad, but many had issues with self control and self awareness. I had to remind a lot of students that it is possible talk to your friends without yelling across the room. I also had to remind students that they are not to chit-chat while one of their peers has the floor or I’m talking.

Overall, most of the 6th and 7th graders were cool individuals. 8th graders were a whole ‘nother story. I did get a lot friction from students once the homework started rolling in and free time was over. Many wanted to argue that homework should be done at home, instead of during Study Skills. Their STAR test scores would suggest otherwise. Most of my students were a grade level or two behind in reading and math, and just seemed to not have good study habits. It was frustrating. I wondered how these students made it this far without intervention from a teacher, school, or parent. I had a few students break down and cry.

Reflections

I do not for one second regret the experience. I learned a lot in the eight short weeks I was employed by Imagine Schools/100 Academy of Excellence, and I would probably work there again– as a sub. Being a teacher is helluva job! IF YOU KNOW OR MEET A TEACHER, HUG THEM! They are probably stressed out. Teachers have to take on a great deal of responsibility, and all of the middle school teachers at 100 Academy took on more than they were compensated for. The middle school team was tight and everybody had each other’s back. It was we against the world, and unfortunately our greatest adversary was often administration– rather the decisions that administration made. I had a heart-to-heart with my younger brother, who is a middle school teacher in Minneapolis, about my decision to leave the school. He ultimately told me

“Administration is the reason that teachers leave schools, not the kids.”

I have to agree. My biggest gripe with the job was that myself and the other teachers were put in situations that were not conducive to the success of students or our sanity. From showing up to school with no middle school schedule, to frequent and announced schedule changes, impromptu after-school meetings, class room sizes of 30+ students, short lunches, no prep period (for the first two weeks), unrealistic deadlines, etc., it was too much. In my opinion, most of the issues I had with students were due to large classroom sizes. After I had an AWFUL day at school the day after my 29th birthday, I decided it was time to move on. I wrote a cordial letter to the Principal and Assistant Principal stating my grievances and put in my two weeks. I left 100 Academy of Excellence on good terms, and was told that the door is always open.

dscn1102-copy

Part 5: The End / What’s Next? Will I Ever Go Back to School?

by Brandon Summers | March 2016

What’s Next?

Well, this is the end. I intend to contact FVSU and see what they can do for me. Maybe they can award me a lesser degree so I don’t walk away from this situation completely empty handed. That’s something I will look into towards in the near future. As of March 2016, it’s not urgent.

Otherwise, I’m gonna to keep on keepin’ on. Currently, I have a weekly lounge gig at the Cromwell. This is the first but hopefully not the last of it’s kind. I’m hoping that more opportunities like this will open up. I also have wedding gigs lined up later in the year. I will continue to busk as well.

Long term

I know that the this music thing will not last forever. I never intended it to. I’m always interested in new challenges. In the fall, I will look into substitute teaching, tutoring, and all things 9-5. However, if things pick up musically around this time, I’ll postpone the job hunt.

Will I Ever Go Back to School?

God, I hope not. Maybe I’ll be stupid enough to take Adv. Matrix Theory next Spring at UNLV. I will fight this urge unless I have assurance that my outcome will be different on a sixth attempt.

If down the line I find great difficulty in securing employment or promotion because of my lack of education, I may consider going back to school for a different degree. I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.

Update: June 2016

I am a regularly scheduled performer at The Park. I believe this gig will last through the summer.

Now that I have my time back, I can put more effort into elevating my brand and visibility. I can also make time to work on collaborative music projects. I’m going to work towards getting some outstanding bills paid. I also plan on watching a lot of Netflix (yeah). I may even take a vacation (“what are those?!”). I’m going to live my life.

Update: October 2016

I took a position as a middle school Instructional Aide at 100 Academy of Excellence, a charter school. I worked there for six weeks before leaving. The job was incredibly mentally exhausting, and thus was not in line with my personal goals. However, I am grateful for the experience and I may continue to work in the education field in the future.

Update: Late November 2016

I got in contact with Fort Valley State University regarding the possibility of earning an alternative degree. They gave me the option of earning a Liberal Studies degree, but that option is contingent upon a lot of factors. The waiting game continues.

I also registered for MATH 463 Advanced Matrix Theory for the Spring 2017 semester at UNLV. This is to be a last resort if the option of earning a Liberal Studies degree falls through. This is madness, but at least the professor has taught the class before and he has a 3.5 rating on RateMyProfessors.com.

I am also at the finish line for substitute teaching through CCSD. I completed the required training and I’m waiting for another background check before I am finally approved.

Part 1: I Went to School on a Full-ride Scholarship for Mathematics

by Brandon Summers | March 2016

The plan was to become an engineer. Georgia Tech was the end game. In 2006, I accepted a full ride Presidential Scholarship to Fort Valley State University. I would major in math there, and transition into the CDEP-Georgia Tech Engineering partnership upon completion of my math degree. This is something I truly wanted. My dream as a kid was to become an engineer. I was curious about how electronics worked so I took apart speakers, VCRs, vacuum cleaners, etc. I liked problem solving. I was good at math and my favorite class in high school was Physics.

Fort Valley was in interesting choice. It was in the South— a region I’d never visited. It was a Historically Black College (HBCU). No one in my family had been to an HBCU— hell, none of my biological relatives had gone to or finished college. My great-grandmother Octavia Tolefree graduated from Branch Normal College (now University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff) in the 1920’s, however no one on the family tree had followed suit in almost 100 years. My stepfather graduated from law school in Iowa the year I was born, and his family too did not have a legacy of college graduates. Going to college was exciting not only for me, but for my the family.

After overcoming the culture shock, homesickness, aging dorms, the cafeteria food, and the lack of internet connectivity, Fort Valley grew on me. This tiny, rural town in the heart of middle Georgia had a unique charm that wasn’t possible in a large metropolitan city. The slow pace, “yes mams” and “no sirs”, and the isolation was a departure from the life I knew— but it gave me a fresh start and identity of my own making. I met some incredible people, made good friends, and enjoyed the autonomy of being away from home. To many, I was the smart guy, the violin guy, the guy who made beats, and the guy from Vegas. I had a job as a math tutor, I played bass in Jazz Band, and I went on a recruitment tour with the president of the school (twice!). I belonged and that was everything.

The first two years at FVSU were really nice. There were plenty of things to complain about, but overall I had peace and joy. Everything was going according to plan. I had no idea that things would fall apart.

Continue Reading / Part 2: I Got an A in Calculus III !…and Then Theory of Numbers Happened

Part 2: I Got an A in Calculus III!… and then Theory of Numbers Happened

by Brandon Summers | March 2016

Math is hard. That is a universally accepted truth. But I like hard, and I like solving problems. Calculus is definitely is the epitome of hard, yet I got an A in Calculus III during the second semester of my sophomore year. I performed well in most lower level math courses (and in school in general). Irregardless of the difficulty, I enjoyed the courses and I had a lot of confidence. I had momentum moving into my junior year of college.

Junior Year

That all changed when I took Theory of Numbers my junior year at Fort Valley (Fall 2008). I’m okay with being out of my comfort zone, but this class was altogether foreign, difficult, and uninteresting. I could barely stay awake during lecture or stay focused while doing homework. I managed to pass with a C. I was under the impression that this course was just an outlier. My confidence remained intact. But when I took Advanced Calculus the next semester, it was apparent that this stuff was not going away. It was a disaster— a kidney shot. My confidence began to erode and then shatter. I got an F in this course, my first ever. Ironically, I passed the other three courses I was taking with an A. I was now a senior in college— a depressed, disillusioned, and apathetic senior.

I still had an opportunity to graduate on time. At this point, I told myself that I could just muscle through the last year of my major. All I had left was Chemistry I, Chemistry II, Linear Algebra I, Linear Algebra II, Advanced Calculus (again), Complex Variables, and Abstract Algebra.

Summer 2009

I took Linear Algebra I and Chemistry I at UNLV. I barely passed Linear Algebra I, but failed Chemistry. I was hobbled with depression the entire time.

Senior Year

When I arrived back on campus Fall 2009, I was a mess. I was emotionally detached from myself and reality. I still had my scholarship and was in good academic standing, so I just went through the motions. I passed Chemistry II and Circuits I, but failed Complex Variables and Abstract Algebra. At this point it was impossible to graduate on time; and fortunately, that didn’t bother me much, honestly. Coincidentally, my core circle of friends slowly evaporated around this time. This was punctuated by an unexpected breakup— It was a rough time.

With the pressure of graduating lifted, the second half of my senior year wasn’t so bad emotionally. I still struggled with depression, but I had enough going on socially that it didn’t stop me from enjoying what I believed to be my last semester at Fort Valley. I still struggled academically and only passed two of the five math courses I attempted.  I ended up leaving Fort Valley just four classes shy of graduation. All I had left was Advanced Calculus, Abstract Algebra, Linear Algebra II, and Chemistry I. It seemed totally manageable at the time. I was upset, but held my chin high.

Continue Reading / Part 3: State of Limbo – UNLV, FVSU (again), UNR, Street Performing…

Part 3: State of Limbo – UNLV, FVSU (again), UNR

by Brandon Summers | March 2016

Life after Fort Valley: Street Performing

Prior to my last semester of school, I discovered street performing (busking) during a winter break. I was unable to find a job during the break, and a friend encouraged me to play violin on the Las Vegas Strip. It worked. I earned good tips and I was able to refill my bank account before returning to school.

When my four years at Fort Valley State University ended, I came home and immediately began street performing full-time. For some reason, my mom was convinced that I was distracted from completing school; and even worse— that I was a self-saboteur. My parents had valid concerns about my safety on Las Vegas Blvd. Strangers, late hours, police— I had a lot of run-ins with cops during that summer.

Fall 2010 at UNLV

Fast forward to Fall 2010: I enrolled in four classes at UNLV as a non-degree seeking student. Two of those courses were required for my math program and the other two were just for fun. It didn’t take long before depression crept back in. I dropped all but one of my classes. I wasted a ton of money, and was now embarrassed and depressed.

Spring 2011 at FVSU

I decided that it would be prudent to return to Fort Valley in the Spring to complete the remaining four classes. I was convinced that this was it. Ego. Pure ego. I took out a student loan, my first ever, for $7,500 and took Abstract Algebra, Linear Algebra II, Advanced Calculus, and Circuits II. Again, it didn’t take long before depression got the best of me. I still didn’t have a handle on proofs, and struggled in all of these courses. I muscled through Abstract Algebra and Advanced Calculus, but did not make it out of Circuits II or Linear Algebra II. My depression became unbearable and I realized I needed help. I went to on-campus counseling, but they asked me a bunch of stupid questions. I got up and left. I felt like I was on my own. Thankfully, I had energetic roommates and a good friend who always invited me over for Sunday dinner with his family. The light never went dim.

Fall 2011 at UNR

Over the summer, I street performed once more. The depression I experienced during school vanished the moment I had my violin back in my hand on the street. A few months later, I had an opportunity to play at a trade show in Vegas and NYC for Hudson Jeans. This was my introduction to the corporate entertainment industry. I also made a connection with their go-to DJ, Mike, and we’ve been playing holiday parties for Nordstrom ever since.

However, when I saw another opportunity to finish school, I took it. I now had two classes left, and only one course was math. The University of Nevada Reno (UNR) was offering Linear Algebra II. I immediately signed up and began saving money to make it a reality. When the time came, I moved to Reno and took Linear Algebra II and Chemistry I. Piece of cake right? Once again, depression was there to greet me. I struggled to do homework and eventually struggled to get out of bed. I didn’t know anybody in Reno, so I kept to myself. I hit rock bottom mentally. My physical health was affected to. To be frank, I couldn’t shit right for most of 2012 (the doctors never figured out what was wrong). I ended up failing both of those courses. I decided to take a year off of school.

Part 4: State of Limbo (Continued) – The Best of Days. The worst of days.

Part 4: State of Limbo (Continued) – The Best Days. The Worst days.

by Brandon Summers | March 2016

Fall 2012 at UNLV

2012, without a doubt, was the best year I’ve had in my twenties. It was my best year street performing and the corporate entertainment gigs started rolling in. I was flown to San Francisco and Orange County for gigs. I was finally validated as a professional musician in my mother’s eyes. My younger brother graduated from college. I fell in love with a girl from New York while on a summer vacation. Everything was right in the world.

I decided to take Chemistry I at UNLV in the Fall. I couldn’t sustain my motivation to get the work done, so I dropped out after a few weeks. My head just wasn’t in the game. I promised myself I would try harder next semester, and I did.

Spring 2013 at UNLV / Fall 2013 at UNR

I took Chemistry I at UNLV in the spring. It was hard to stay focused at times and I had a less than spectacular professor, but I wasn’t depressed or overwhelmed. I just didn’t want to be on campus. Long story short, I passed with a B.

I now had one class left. One class! I was optimistic. I knew I would take Linear Algebra II in the fall at UNR, and I believed I would pass. However, I was under a lot of stress between Spring and Fall. My dad* had been having health issues since 2011, so I stepped up and helped him get to his appointments (since his then wife wouldn’t). At the same time, the golden era of street performing on the Vegas strip had come to an end. Competition was fierce and there were new rules governing what performers could and could not do. My income was basically cut in half overnight.

By August, I made the adjustments financially and enrolled in Linear Algebra II at UNR. I flew into Reno for the first week, and met with the professor. I asked him if he would accept homework assignments via email, and he said “yes”. He just needed me to be present for the tests. Great! This allowed me to remain in Las Vegas while taking this course. I put in the time, and I was making progress. There were plenty proofs, but they weren’t the primary focus of the book selected by the professor. I felt confident that things were gonna work out.

When school started, my dad continued to need a lot of assistance getting to and from his medical appointments. I did all that I could, and it was hard for me to see my dad go through this. It was also hard on my time. Eventually my dad moved home to Indianapolis to be looked after by his family, but my performance in class suffered for the first eight weeks. I wasn’t able to recover. I knew I was a dead man walking weeks before the final exam.

I knew that not passing meant that I would have to wait until Fall 2015 to take this class again. I was also broke since I cashed out my savings ($1,400) to pay for class. That girl that from New York that I met on vacation— I pushed her away because I believed that the future of our relationship was contingent on me finishing school. I was planning on ditching the “long-distance” part of our relationship.

2014

Broke and single, I was at a really low point going into the New Year. I didn’t take any classes in 2014, but I did take a free online course to improve my confidence with proofs. I dropped out after a couple of weeks. I also read a book called How To Study as a Math Major in its entirety. But for the most part, I spent most of 2014 getting back on my feet financially. I street performed. I had gigs as usual. I did this. And this. I joined a band from Evansville, IN for a brief moment between late July-mid September. It didn’t work out, but it was a great experience. Otherwise, most of this year was just blah.

Spring 2015

After I failed to pass Linear Algebra II in the fall of 2013, I came to the epiphany that my lack of understanding with proofs was more than just an obstacle— it was a brick wall twenty feet high. I decided to take Discrete Mathematics at UNLV as a refresher course. I took this class seven years ago, but I certainly remember being bored, apathetic, and sleeply (it didn’t help that the class was right after lunchtime).

Things did not go as planned (of course!). Because of the demand for this course (mostly by computer science majors), the math department forced all students to drop the class and re-enroll. When I did, I was pushed into the section that was taught by a senile and incompetent professor. I ended up taking this issue to the dean of Colleges and Sciences who eventually offered every student a chance to retake the course free of charge. This class would have been a disaster if it weren’t for the TA who held recitation on Fridays. He was a godsend. Long story short, I passed and now had some confidence in attempting proofs. I decided to take Linear Algebra II at UNR again in the fall. This would be my fifth attempt.

Fall 2015

August rolls around and I am relieved and excited to get this school thing over with. I am emotionally recharged and I have momentum. I have paid (partially) for class and I have the tickets to fly to Reno for the first week of class. Things seem to moving in my favor. Then I get the call on my way home from a wedding gig. I see a missed call from my grandmother, but I don’t return it. I had a feeling something was wrong, but I wanted to land in Vegas before addressing the issue. I am not particularly close to my dad’s* side of the family. Minutes later my brother calls and his voice is frantic. He tells me that our that our dad had a stroke.

Long story short, my dad survives, but is paralyzed on the right side of his body and unable to speak. He is only able to make out a few words at a time. He was put in a nursing home in September 2015. My aunt and I became his legal guardians. This process was arduous and time consuming. It required a lawyer and a trip to Indianapolis. It also forces me to drop out of Linear Algebra II after a few weeks. I’m mourning my father’s health and at the same time resenting him. I’m beyond exhausted by the time the dust has settled in December, but I seize an opportunity to take Advanced Matrix Theory, a class comparable to Linear Algebra II, at UNLV in the spring of the following year. (I wish I would have known that this class was offered locally, but you know what they say about hindsight.)

Spring 2016

With reluctant enthusiasm, I registered for Advanced Matrix Theory at UNLV. After the fiasco with Discrete Mathematics the previous year, I was sure that I would never have to set foot on UNLV’s campus again. I was wrong. The first week of class comes around and I am met with the professor’s broken English as well as the breakneck speed at which he lectures. It is also his first time teaching this class (of course!). My book is also going to take two weeks to arrive in the mail, but we already have homework due. I quickly become anxious, overwhelmed, and depressed. However, I have done my due diligence by reaching out to classmates to form a study group and a few respond. I also enroll in psychological services at the Student Wellness center.

I adjust to the professors accent, my book comes in the mail, the professor pushes back the due date of the first assignment, and I come out of my depression spell. Now it’s time to do the work. The problem is I can’t. I spend hours at UNLV’s library and at a 24/7 McDonalds. I go to office hours for help and clarity. The professor is somewhat helpful, but goes too fast and can’t offer alternative explanations. I am hanging on by my fingertips. I am struggling with the homework assignments (which are 40% of our grade). Fortunately, I have a classmate who allows me to copy the initial three assignments; but he eventually grows tired of my inability to contribute during our study sessions. I am slowly losing my mind as the semester progresses. By week six, I’ve had several depression attacks in the parking lot at UNLV. By week eight, I’ve had enough. This class, with this professor, with this book is just not going to work. I drop out in the eighth week, just two days before the midterm. Without having a grasp on homework, I knew I didn’t have a chance in hell to perform well on the midterm. This is when I decide to call it quits.

PART 5: The End / What’s Next? Will I Ever Go Back To School?

How I Fell Into Doing Music Full-time

By Brandon Summers | March 2016

Many friends and family members (as well as casual observers) believe that I ended up being a full-time musician because I made a courageous decision to “pursue my dreams”. That’s very poetic. It’s also not true.

I’ve had a talent for covering pop tunes on violin since the age of 13. Honest curiosity got me on this path. I wasn’t really intrigued with the violin or classical music, but it was something I had to do until I finished high school. I just happened to be really good and I’m naturally competitive. I know I sound ungrateful for the violin lessons and the natural talent, but the truth is I don’t care for the violin all that much. It is an instrument that is hard to keep in tune, it is not contemporary, and it’s uncomfortable for my build. What I enjoy is music, playing music (especially with others), and external gratification. The violin is just my vessel into this world.

My talent for the violin and having a good ear followed me to Fort Valley State University. I decided to do the talent show, and I won. I was then given the opportunity to go on a paid recruitment tour with the school president and a handful of classmates. I was in demand for playing at step shows and school functions. When shit hit the fan in 2009, I came home knowing that my graduation would be delayed. I was in a bind financially and I couldn’t find a job over winter break. A good friend of mine suggested that I go street perform on the Las Vegas Strip. I was low on options for generating income, so that’s what I did. I went on the bridge between Planet Hollywood and Cosmopolitan Hotel (which was under construction at the time) and played pop tunes. It worked.

At the conclusion of my four years at Fort Valley, I came home and street performed full-time. It paid the bills. It paid for school. It paid for my first car and my first vacation to New York. It was fun and challenging, and often unpredictable. It also gave me the flexibility to take classes whenever I needed to. I never intended to street perform long term, but school dragged on. I started getting gigs— out of town gigs (LA, SF, NYC). Who knew there was a market for violinists covering pop tunes?! Years later, here I am.

By the end of 2012, I had a consistent (and predictable) amount of gigs . Lots of weddings and a handful of corporate gigs. My brother handled the correspondence with potential clients. A year later, we started D Smooth Management. As of March 2016, we’ve been going strong for two years now.

(This story is very compressed. I left out a lot of details for the sake of simplicity. My career playing music for a living has had a lot of phases too. Maybe I’ll do a follow-up post.)

FAQ (Frequently Annoying Questions) – July 2015

Maybe I’ll do a comprehensive FAQ at a later date.

Math Proofs: I Hate Them. Chances Are You’ve Never Seen Them

by Brandon Summers | March 14, 2016

What most of us know as math is very superficial. From elementary school, to middle school, to high school, to college algebra— from times tables, to long division, to factoring, to the pythagorean theorem, to the quadratic formula, to the interest rate formula, etc. we are taught how to do computations. We are shown a formula, given examples by our instructor, and then asked to imitate the process. Next, throw in some word problems for good measure— rinse and repeat. This is how we demonstrate that we know how to do math. Unfortunately, this is not proof that we know why or how those formulas work. Advanced math courses dive into the interworkings of formulas by concentrating on reasoning. That’s what proofs do, and there’s a good chance you have not done them.

…And that’s okay for 99.99% of students. Understanding a formula and knowing how to apply it is a useful skill that serves all of us well. However, it is not a skill that is particularly useful in advanced mathematics (i.e math post Calculus III). Mathematical reasoning/logic is the next step in growth (and it’s much different than K-12 math). Mathematicians, physicists, and some computer scientists need to have this skill in their toolbox. (Engineers, not so much. I would have avoided this had I majored in engineering). We take the course Discrete Mathematics as an introduction into the world of proofs. It’s a fundamentals course but it can be challenging for many. It’s a departure from plug-n-chug math. Calculators are not required (they’re essentially useless), and there are no formulas (hell, there are barely numbers)– only theorems and definitions. We are no longer solving for x. The answer is not a number, it’s the process. Here’s an example:

Prove that the sum of two even numbers is even.

Proof: Suppose x and y are even numbers.

Let x=2l and y=2m, for arbitrary integers l and m | (By definition of even numbers)

Then x+y = 2l+2m = 2(l+m)

Hence x+y is even since (l+m) is an integer. Therefore the sum of any two even numbers is even. (done)

Showing examples, say 4+6 = 10 or 12 + 12 = 24, is not sufficient. The goal is to prove that the sum of two numbers is even for ALL even numbers. That’s what proofs are about. You have to prove that assumptions hold true for ENTIRE sets. Many students struggle with proofs.

Note: This was a really easy example. Most proofs are A LOT tougher than that.

As math majors move beyond Discrete Mathematics, we encounter difficult/rigorous courses with increasingly difficult proofs. Not having a command of proofs is a death sentence. That was my fate. My stellar performance in Calculus II and Calculus III had no bearing on my outcome in Theory of Numbers, Abstract Algebra, Advanced Calculus, and Linear Algebra II. While I can “follow” a proof when I see one, I have always struggled with constructing proofs in regards to unfamiliar and complex problems. There are a lot of ways to go about proving things (direct, contraposition, contradiction, induction) and there’s a certain amount of “cleverness” that is involved in doing so. I lack the talent and the enthusiasm.

Why do proofs matter?

Math theory is the essence and foundation of mathematics. Theory has everything to do with why we (arbitrarily) count to ten, why we have prime numbers, how we have a pythagorean theorem, a quadratic formula, the number line, geometry, algebra, calculus, etc. Without mathematicians and their proofs, we wouldn’t have computers, cell phones, airplanes. I have nothing but respect and admiration for mathematical proofs; and I envy those who get it, but it’s not my thing.


The first homework problem in my Advanced Matrix Theory class:

1.1 Let A be an mxm idempotent matrix. Show that Im-A is idempotent.

Proof:

Let A be an mxm idempotent matrix.

Then (Im-A)(Im-A) = (Im-AA)(Im-A)

= IIm– ImA – AAI+ (AA)A

=I-A + AA + AA

=I-A -A +A

=Im-A ◼︎

Hindsight is 20/20: Things I Would Have Done Differently

by Brandon Summers | March 2016

We always tell ourselves to keep looking forward, but the reality is that we do have regrets. I have regrets. Considering that dropping out of college is pretty traumatic life event, it’s worth entertaining the what if’s. Indulge me.

1. I would not have gone to Fort Valley State University (no offense to the university). I cherish my experiences, but FVSU was unwittingly a poor choice. I went to this school for the CDEP program and the full-ride scholarship (see Part 1: I Went to School…). Being a math major was never in my wheelhouse, but it was a stipulation of my scholarship. Who knew that upper level math courses would be so daunting? Who knew that the lack of options to change majors would bite me in the ass?  Who knew that I would spiral into depression in my junior year? Who knew that the cafeteria food would be so gross?

Instead, I would have applied to HBCU’s with engineering programs. Several classmates were scratching their heads when I told them I chose to go to FVSU. They always asked me, “why didn’t you go to FAMU?”. I didn’t know any better. I was fixated on Georgia Tech. Being from the west and not having a family legacy of college grads, I knew nothing about HBCU’s. I also knew nothing about the South, Midwest, or East Coast.

OR

I would have gone to UNLV, UNR, or NAU and majored in mechanical engineering.

2. I would have transferred to an engineering program at UNLV at the end of my junior year instead of returning to FVSU. I might have preserved my sanity and avoided the nagging depression that has followed me for years.

3. I would have asked for help sooner. I’m a stubborn individual. This is not always a bad thing; but when it came to passing these advanced math courses, pride and stubbornness were my downfall. In the beginning, I was so confident and prideful that I wouldn’t seek help. Often, I wouldn’t accept help from classmates– even when they offered. I wanted to have complete autonomy over my fate, and I got my wish. What I came to realize is that everyone gets help– even smart and successful people (even when they claim they did it alone). No one is self made.

4. I would have taken Discrete and Foundations of Mathematics extremely seriously. I should have done everything in my power to become comfortable and confident with proofs.

5. I would not have gone back to Fort Valley in 2011. I took out $7,500 in loans, and I’m still paying for those loans. I also had to endure depression. However, I had an awesome solo cross-country road trip at the end the semester.

6. I would not have moved to Reno in 2011 to take Linear Algebra II. I lost my mind up there. I could have lost more than that. Depression is no joke.

Also, I should have realized that Adv. Matrix Theory (UNLV) was a comparable course to Linear Algebra II (FVSU, UNR). This was a silly and costly mistake on my part.

7. After the catastrophe that was 2011, I would have dropped out of school in 2012. This is the only year I’ve truly experienced playing music for a living unfettered by the burden of being in school. Who knows where I’d be musically, financially, and mentally had I stopped constantly disrupting my life with school.

8. I would have sought mental health services sooner. Depression is serious. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, and there’s nothing noble about trying to fight it alone. It’s an affliction that needs professional help.