Calculus: “Should I Run Away?”


Dr. Johnson Matthew in class

Last August, I sat with my aunts out at Bear Lake on the Idaho-Utah border, and expressed my apprehension towards the upcoming school year, specifically regarding my Calc I class. I’d heard “horror stories”, you might call them, and Dr. Mathew seemed super scary. I knew people who were “math kids” all through school but struggled when they hit Calc. Others tell me they’ve avoided taking higher math classes because they think it would be too hard – they seem to run away.

To Consider: Pre-Calc v. Calc

Speaking generally, Calc I is easier than Pre-Calc. One Calculus student said, “Pre-Calculus has been much harder than Calculus… so far… if you put the same amount of work into Calc as you do in Pre-Calc, you’ll definitely succeed in that class.” There is less course content, and Calc I tends to seem slower than Pre-Calc. There’s also usually less homework.

To Consider: Dr. Mathew

Dr. Mathew usually teaches Calc classes at Huntingtown. He has advanced degrees in mathematics, mathematics education, and psychology.

In class, generally, he’ll use PowerPoint presentations to lecture for the first part of the class, and then work through some practice problems. Some people love it, while some don’t. Also, it should be noted, he tends to call on people randomly, which can be intimidating to some.

On the other hand, I hear from some who are frustrated with different math teachers. One said, “[My teacher] doesn’t really teach the content and it’s really, really annoying.” He also commented that he thinks few students are succeeding in the class. Frankly, Calc isn’t easy, and getting a hundred isn’t likely, but Dr. Mathew actually teaches – he can explain things, and he’s willing to help and answer questions. These factors create a productive system for learning math.

Mr. Johnson, a Huntingtown Pre-Calculus teacher, said that “Calculus classes at HHS are GREAT! They prepare students to pursue advanced courses at the next level of education. Dr. Mathew… is an exemplary instructor.” Another Calculus student said, “Calc was scary at first… I think that if people let go of all their preconceived notions about Calc it can be a rewarding class. Dr. Mathew is a cool teacher and does a good job at pacing the class so it’s challenging but bearable.”

To Consider: Why Take Something Else

My dad is a professional tuba player. My mom worked in business prior to my birth. Neither took math past Algebra II or Pre-Calc and have been very successful professionally. Take aspiring professional musicians: In high school, the primary goal is to practice as much as humanly possible and become phenomenal enough to get into a good music school on scholarship, study with great teachers, and win a professional job as soon as possible, even at nineteen or twenty years old. The point, then, in high school, isn’t to learn how to take the derivative of √x or solve differential equations – all that homework and time detracts from the overall goal. The same applies to many other trades. For students heading in these kinds of directions, time elsewhere, not in math, could be very well spent.

Calculus is difficult, that’s a given. Not everyone has to take Calc, or even should; but it should be considered a viable option for those taking classes after Pre-Calc. It’s not easy, but no one should be scared of it; and, certainly, no one should be running away.