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Mr chen and I

It may seem weird to write about a high school teacher for Dartmouth's teacher appreciation week, but recently I've been spending a lot of time thinking about how I ended up here, in rural New Hampshire.

In my sophomore year of high school, I walked into the first session of my accelerated Algebra 2 class, and the teacher, Mr. Chen, started by asking, "who's a little scared for this year?"

I was the only kid in the class who raised my hand. I looked around and thought — "are all of you insane? Math has letters now! That's terrifying!" Mr. Chen looked out at us and went, "Natalie's right. You probably should be scared. This will be hard! But it's good that it's hard! And it's good that it's scary" Then I wondered if he was insane. Good?! To be hard?!

We dove into the first unit, and I struggled. Math didn't come naturally to me — I would camp out by Mr. Chen's desk during Office Hours and pester him with questions. When I got stuck on a problem or frustrated, he would yell, "GROWTH IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW!! HARD IS GOOD"

Hard is good. As a stereotypical Type A perfectionist Bay Area high schooler, the concept that difficult ≠ bad was mindblowing to me. I was the kid who quit everything I wasn't good at immediately. Violin was gone in less than six months, volleyball even faster.  I had very little academic resilience. I excelled in writing and reading, so I loaded my schedule with English and History classes. Math and Science scared me! They were hard, so I avoided them.

Hard is good. The units in algebra two didn't get easier — there was no learning curve — this was just difficult stuff. However, I got better at the grind. Problem sets started to end in tears less frequently; I got more comfortable saying, "I don't know." I began to solve problems on the board even when I wasn't sure how to do them. The math didn't get easier, but the struggle did.

Hard is good. My mentality towards difficult things started to change. Not, "I can't do this," but "I can't do this, yet." It's tricky! We all gravitate towards things we excel at — it's natural. But Mr. Chen taught me Algebra, and he taught me that my growth and my strength weren't in the success but in the process of getting there.

Dartmouth is the living embodiment that hard is good. Academics here kick my butt — but I am trying to consciously take classes that I know will push me outside of my academic comfort zone. This winter, I learned to code! Speaking of winter, winter is hard! But it's good!

I don't think sophomore me would have or could have ended up here. I wasn't resilient and wasn't adventurous. There was no hustle, no struggle, and no grind. Mr. Chen taught me hard is good — and that's why I can be here — and can thrive here.

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