Pathways To College Mathematics
Today I offer insight into my recent journey into learning math.
After a lifetime of fear and avoidance I want to share my reasons, my struggles and my attempting to overcome them.
My old Job
Using Math In My Work
Trying for Advancement
Feeling in a Dead End
Community College is Extremely Cheap
Knowing what I had to do
Enrolling In Math Class
Then Covid Happened
Where I Stand Today
Why You Should Do It Too
Improving Your Weakest Aspect
Now is a Great Time to Start
Open Doors for Yourself
I'm hoping I can catalog my progress and thoughts for posterity, and maybe to help someone else on their journey as well.
Before I begin I must acknowledge myself.
I've had trouble with math for as long as I can remember.
I remember having trouble with English too, but that got ironed out fairly quickly.
Before long I went from being tutored to tutoring my peers every morning in spelling.
There's only one time in my life where I made decent progress, and that was for 1 semester in senior year.
Even so I only managed 70%.
The challenges I face
I find myself focusing on the beginning of a problem while everyone is already moving on to the ending steps, so I end up missing out. Repetition often helps with that though.
It's not something that comes naturally, and it's not something I retain easily. I liken myself to a balloon that is constantly deflating. I just need to pump stuff in at a faster pace than it leaks out.
My biggest problem is that I often write one set of terms or signs while thinking of different ones, and from there what's in my mind and what's on paper totally diverge.
I don't realize that this happens until someone points it out. Usually it involves negative signs. I'll freak out over a question and I'll go over it again and again and again, but I wont see the disconnect until someone spots it. It's like I'm totally blind to it.
This often makes the natural response of 'why not talk to the professor' incredibly frustrating, because it's not a question I can rightly articulate. I don't know what the problem is, I can't see it. All I know is that it doesn't work. Trying to explain a non existent thing ends up in me shoving a sheet of scribbles in some overworked person's face like a set of hieroglyphs.
So what are the truths here
- I'm getting older, so it's now or never.
- I'm at a natural disadvantage and I always have been.
- I take longer than others to learn mathematical concepts.
- I have to have someone check my work, it's how I progress.
- Repetition is the key. Repetition is key.
- Be patient with myself and the work.
Some other truths
- I've never been more prepared.
- My support network is stronger than it has been.
- The system has never been more suited to someone like me.
With all of this in mind - it all would mean nothing if I didn't have this.
I've worked in entry-level accounting for years
This was my office
I was the lead Night Auditor. Not many people know what that is because it's not glamorous in any way. Guaranteed though, any hotel you've ever stayed at has one. If you've called the Front Desk during the night, chances are you've spoken to one.
Though boring, they are essential to any complex hospitality enterprise.
At the end of each day someone has to balance all of the accounts to make sure services rendered match the daily revenue. If there are any discrepancies it was my ultimate task to find it and correct it. A Night Auditor's duties include; balancing, adjusting, crediting, data logging, and verifying and submitting accurate CC batches. We transition the entire property over to the next day and get everything ready for the morning crew.
We spend our nights sorting through mountains of receipts.
We populate famously boring, yet essential spreadsheets.
One of the best things and probably worst things about the job is that when you start your shift, everyone is ready to go home. Everyone is really happy to see you especially after a long day exhausting day. I truly worked with some wonderful people.
Here's how I walked in one night on my birthday.
I love this.
But it did come with it's downsides. Sometimes it was easy to be overlooked, which I suppose I can't really fault people for. Out of sight, out of mind. Night Audit rarely saw a lot of the day shift people.
I noticed something though:
I found myself using math for my job
Let's say one night I'm balancing the Food and Beverage outlets on a standard Saturday night.
They produce a sales summary report that shows:
- Debits: $23560
- Credits: -$1220
- Total Transactions: 1745
For a final count of $22340.
However my Property Management Software says something different.
It produces a Detailed Ticket report that shows:
- Debits: $24360
- Credits: -$2105
- Total Transactions: 1832
For a final count of: $22255
That's a discrepancy of $800.
Now it's normal for the PMS (property management system) to show more transactions than the F&B as they do the bulk of the adjusting and account trickery. It's also where the majority of errors happen.
What does that mean?
This means that something went wrong and one isn't balanced against the other.
We have $800 on our books that we can't account for. Quite frankly, you're not supposed to have that. It indicates that something went wrong like a double-charge. IT can also hide criminal activity from staff who comp or double-ring in order to steal cash payments if it isn't resolved.
To resolve that I compare each line item both both reports.
After doing so I notice that the Sales Summary looks perfect except for 2 tickets showing double-charges, yet only one of them was comped.
I record the ticket number, and write down the 'actual' Sales Summary total of: $23545 ($23560-$15) and note my new OOB (out of balance) total of $815.
I compare this to the Detailed Ticket Report which is showing 87 extra transactions.
My first act is to correct the problem I identified in the previous report.
I type in the ticket number, go to the account, and lo-and-behold; before me is a labyrinth of charges, refunds, more charges, more refunds. Attempts to adjust, attempts to credit - transaction after transaction.
It turns out the new girl got confronted by the double-charged guest, and in her frantic attempt to resolve it, ended up digging an $800 hole for herself that she couldn't climb out of.
It's honestly quite understandable. Accounts are tricky things, credits are negatives and debits are positive - that can mess with people.
So. I begin my task of putting the entire account back together from the ground up.
I go through each transaction, one by one and reverse them all. Slowly and surely the account's balance reduces. $750 $640 $450 so on and so on, until about half an hour later it is at $0 again.
I then make a record of all the adjustment I made, oh look, turns out it was $800 worth.
That's what it looks like when I have to do something like that. Lists on lists on lists.
Often they're more complicated than this, this was just one agent with one set of errors. Often they're compounded from multiple sources and multiple agents all making it worse.
But it's worthwhile. It needs to be done, because that hard work means you don't have to fight with the hotel or the bank later when they try to charge you the amount.
It also means we didn't give out money that we shouldn't have.
It was challenging work but eventually it became muscle memory. I could do it with my eyes closed, I yearned for more. I wanted to give my wife MORE.
So I tried for a promotion.
Advancement in this field
By this stage I already impressed myself.
I didn't realize it, but I was solving inequalities and linear equations without even realizing it.
I showed amazing performance.
However each time I was rejected.
I applied for an accounting clerk position in-house, in the accounting department.
Technically I was in the accounting department, but it was equally a Front Desk position. I wanted a day job 9am-5pm. I wanted my weekends back. I wanted to really begin to learn the accounting department.
4 times I was rejected. Though the 4th time it was more like... I got the job, but the manager quit before I transitioned into the role, so I had to re-interview for it and then they gave it to someone else.
Just my luck.
I felt the dead end looming
Was I going to be in this position forever?
I felt encouraged to do more yet my attempts at progressing fell to a stand still.
I didn't know what to do really, I felt education out of the question because of how full-on work was. Until my wife suggested we take only 1-2 classes a semester and just get it done over time.
You know, as long and tedious as that sounds - doing a degree over years and years, it's honestly more progress than I had actually achieved. I mean sure I had grown my hourly pay.. but that's not the same really as career progression.
So I enrolled.
Education is Practically Free for CA Residents
Recently College of the Desert's website went down so some of their services are down. I'd show you a breakdown of my fees, but I can't - all I get is this:
Just know that my average cost per unit ended up being some like $55 after everything. All I've paid for are my books and supplies, as well as grounds fees and parking fees.
Honestly guys, community college is not nearly as expensive as you think.
A “California resident” is a person who has resided within California for at least one year and one day prior to the first day of the term of enrollment and can provide documentation of his or her intent to make California their permanent residence.
Meaning that just after 1 year of living in California you can gain access to extremely cheap education.
Hey the fees page is still up.
I needed to do it.
For my wife, for myself.
I needed to take plunge and face my deepest academical fears. It meant to advance and grow professionally I needed to do it personally.
So I did it, and @pommom decided she would do it too.
Why should it be just me that seeks to improve themselves and advance?
So we did it.
We enrolled in Beginning Algebra
It was my first math class in over 10 years.
Suffice to say it was a pretty intimidating thing, but with Caroline beside me it was made much easier. We started in a class room with about 30 people, but by the end of the semester there were only about 11 of us left.
Honestly I struggled from the beginning. There were several fundamental concepts that I forgot that I had forgotten, if that makes sense. A lot of old neurons were getting a rigorous workout and it was a fairly painful experience.
Some of the things we covered were:
- Linear and Non Linear equations.
- Complex fractions.
- Graphics ordered pairs.
- Y Intercept and Point Slope Form.
- Factoring and solving quadratic equations.
I utterly flunked the first test.
Thankfully the professor told the class that due to the way the syllabus was constructed, our lowest test score would not be included in our final grade.
Say what you will of that, I don't quite understand the logic behind it. Maybe it's to accommodate for dummies like myself?
I really hope not. But honestly that's exactly what it felt like. To give people like me a chance, lol.
Anyway, I was fairly shattered.
For almost the full half the first semester I was almost constantly frustrated. When I had been focusing on a question for like 40 minutes and re-done it 10 times, and finally seeing the error on the 11th attempt - boy... let me tell you. It is extremely grating. It's like a chisel against my very soul.
Write, scribble, erase, write, scribble, erase
But eventually I got there. I always completed the homework and with @pommom's help, I was able to get the answers right, understand how I did it (even if I forgot it almost immediately) and submit complete work. Eventually though it sunk in and I started catching up and even pre-empting some classes.
You know what's an amazing feeling? Knowing the content of a class before it begins.
Not only was I keeping up, I was actually getting ahead!
Absolutely unheard of for me.
Then Covid Happened
Right before mid-term exams College of the Desert shut down
Along with the rest of California.
Bam. Suddenly everything was online on a thing called Zoom.
It was weird but not entirely unwelcome to be honest.
I mean, yeah I lost my job but think about it.
I had all the free time in the world and unemployment was actually paying a decent amount. So I was free to study. That's exactly what I did.
Everything around me was falling to pieces, yet somehow it was like we were in a little protected dome. We were able to pay rent, pay bills, buy food and attend college.
IT was weird, but welcome.
Another massive change happened.
If you have ever completed exams at college that were always 1 or 2 hours long, and even though I'd done some as well I guess, I owe you an apology.
My professor let us submit our exams at 11:59pm
So long were the days of closed book, eye bulgingly stressful exams - no, these were
smoke a bowl put on some music, grab some snacks, open your textbook kinda' exams.
They were great, to be honest. I spent hours on questions. Hours.
For my mid term and my final I ended up scoring a very high B, and I ended the class with a B as well.
I only missed out on an A by an extremely tight margin.
Absolutely unheard of for me.
But then again - I did have hours in order to complete my work.
What they wanted to see were the individual steps taken to complete the work, so if I cheated and just got the answers, or if my workings were wrong and my answer correct it wouldn't of mattered.
Cheating seems pretty easy to spot with math, especially if you've been doing it for ages. My professor was a PHD, so I sincerely doubt there was any chance the students could get one around this guy.
Anyway I finished a whisker shy of an A.
Fairly proud of myself, even if there's a mouthful of guilt to be swallowed along with it.
Where I Stand Today
Right now I should be studying for my current class: Pre Statistics
A lot of what we're doing is off of a third party website called: 'Open Stax' and for Economics we're using yet another website called 'Hawkes'
America uses so many third party companies in their learning it's quite jarring at first.
The degree I am looking to get in order to truly rise to the top in my field is a Business Administration degree that majors in finance. There's a pretty cool program over at San Diego State University that I want to one day take advantage of.
The position I would most like to get is a financial controller, which is basically the guy who runs the entire finance department in a hotel.
It looked pretty cushy, and it's definitely something I could see myself comfortably doing one day.
In saying that right now I'm situated fairly well. Better than ever in fact.
My GPA is awesome. I've completed 2 classes and scored highly in both, now I'm doing 2 at once - Macro Ecoomics and Pre Statistics, and so far so good on them as well.
Although my move to Nevada has made the path a little cloudy, I'm still walking it and I'm certain of my direction.
I want to excel and provide the most for my wife and my family.
Improving Your Weakest Aspect
It's quite fulfilling to improve at the thing you're the worst at. It's almost like you're raising a standard in yourself, and placing foundations that you've known all along that you've been lacking.
That doesn't have to be Math, it can be something else. Heck, for a lot of people writing is the hardest thing in the world. Stream of consciousness from brain to paper isn't an easy skill to have. It's easy to take for granted the things that come naturally to us.
IF you're like me - then challenge yourself. Build a foundation at your weakest point. Raise your lowest common denominator. Once you do this you will find yourself feeling more secure in yourself.
Now Is a Great Time to Start Learning
I know it's fairly late in the Pandemic, but there are future rounds of stimulus yet to come.
Meaning that if you are stuck at home in America and a recipient, then you might be in the most prime time ever to skill up.
Think about it. You've been killing week after week going about your business filling the gap that your job once filled. Whether that be teaching the kids at home or taking up a hobby (Hive anyone?) Or taking up side gigs, or just playing tonnes of video games.
This is some pretty valuable time that you could be using searching class schedules at your local community college and applying for that class you've always wanted to do.
Opportunity cost is a real thing, and time is the ultimate bridge currency to all things - right now you and I are FLUSH with the most valuable commodity of all - TIME
Spend it and invest it. Use it. Take the plunge and do the thing you've always been afraid of. Use all the resources available to you because now there is more time than ever to leverage them.
Open doors for yourself
I am also currently searching for work.
Something small and familiar - ideally another Night Audiing job at one of the Casinos here.
Working will get my foot in the door, but my dedication to improving my skills and abilities in my field will truly open the door for me.
Those positions I applied for I know I would be amazing at, I just need the papers to prove it. Heck, when I have them, whose to say that the position I end up in wont be far higher than that?
Truly the sky will be the limit.
I hope it is the limit for you too.
This is a more personal kind of post then I usually make, so it was a little different for me. I enjoyed it and hope to chronicle more of my education. I want people to see that it is possible.
It's not something to be afraid of. It can be taken at your own pace, one class at a time if you like. It can only help you.
Thank you again, take care, stay safe and don't be afraid to improve your weakest aspect.