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Don't be sorry!

Greetings, scholars!

Usually I reserve my blog for sharing tech tips and practical advice, but the upcoming holiday has me reflecting on how thankful I am for the wonderful teachers I have had over the years. There's Dr. Galvin, who taught me how to think about discrete mathematics, helped me appreciate "vintage" math literature, and showed me the online encyclopedia of integer sequences. Of course there's Mr. Capello, my high school English teacher, who taught me to write with certainty and confidence, and more recently, Dr. Dubson, who generously shares his physics class via Coursera.

The most important lesson in my education, though, came much earlier, back when I was a typical kid with a wandering mind and no love for math homework. In my elementary school years, my dad would often sit beside me, ensuring that I completed problems successfully and gently correcting me when I made inevitable mistakes. When I made a mistake, I would say, "Sorry!" He would reply, "Don't be sorry, just do it right next time!"

And that was perhaps the most important lesson anyone has ever taught me-- not algebra, not calculus, not physics or chemistry, but simply "don't be sorry". It took many years for the lesson to sink in, and as a high school student and college student, I wasted time and energy being sorry about mistakes I had made on homework sets and exams or things I had done wrong in other areas of life. Self-recrimination lead to depression, but it never motivated me to study harder and better myself. Being sorry never helped me grow as a scholar or a person.

As a tutor, I hear students apologize for mistakes, and I sometimes see a student or parent fall into negative thinking patterns. The lesson I most want to teach these students and parents is that education is a life-long journey filled with fresh starts and new challenges. Each failure is a self-discovery, and each weakness is an area for improvement.

Growing as a scholar means making meaningful, often difficult, changes to study habits and ways of thinking. Staying motivated requires looking forward to the results of those changes instead of looking back with regret. Growth also necessitates moving on quickly instead of dwelling on occasional slip-ups. Improvement means taking action today and celebrating today's progress, regardless of past mistakes.  In short, "don't be sorry, just do it right next time!"