Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Nature vs. Nurture (A Math Problem)

The kids read most of my posts. They get a big kick out of them. But this one I'll have to keep on the down-low.

Most of their academic lives I've been lying to the kids about my feelings for math. It's true. I would lie to them every school day when they would need help with their math homework. It's an experiment I started with them back in second grade. That's the year you learn to borrow in order to subtract, the first complicated math process.

I took the least amount of math possible to graduate from high school. When I got to college they told me I had to take more math or I could take logic. I took all the logic they offered. It's not that I hate math or numbers. I just never felt comfortable in the subject. It's shaky ground I'd rather not walk on.

But here's where being a zombie teacher came in very handy. When you have to teach a math lesson everyday you can't help but become proficient at it. When you have to teach to first grade one day and then sixth grade the next, you get down right good at it. I can multiply using partial products or lattice. I can find the area of two and three dimensional shapes. I know what PEMDAS means and I can use it. And if you need to turn those mixed numbers into improper fractions, multiply them together, simplify the answer and then show it as a decimal and a percentage, I've got it covered.

So when the kids would get stuck at a math problem, I was always ready to help. I not only knew what they were learning but I knew how the concept was going to be extended into the next grade. The kids would say, "We're lucky you're so good at math." And here's where the lying started. I would answer, "I love math. It was always my favorite subject."

Why did I do this? Well, why not. I didn't see any harm. Why should I burden them with my math reservations when I was in the position to do the exact opposite? And the ironic thing is that I really do enjoy math now. Teaching the math lesson is usually my favorite part of a zombie day. There's manipulatives to play with, charts and graph and in the end there's an answer, a real answer that you can prove is right. When I'm explaining a math concept and you get to see that little bulb go off because they finally get it, that's the best. You don't get to see that little light in other subjects like you do in math.

The problem now is that I only teach through sixth grade and my kids are in eighth. This year they are taking algebra. It's not pre-algebra but high school algebra, the class I barely passed. The size of their book is intimidating. Flipping through it's pages is even more so. Their math teacher has already rubbed me the wrong way. (She told her class that this is the year that math would get hard, so hard they might cry. What the hell kind of thing is that to say to children at the start of a brand new year? Is sabotaging your class morale a new teaching model that I haven't heard about yet? I've already had words with this woman and I foresee more words in the future.)

Anyway, the jig is almost up. The Boy's math work last night had a story problem that made me want to go in the corner and hide...and they've only been in school eight days!


Weaver said...

what sort of idiot would say that to a class full of kids??? someone hoping to keep her job by keeping future generations out of the profession? Seriously, great job inspiring your students to a. fail, b. not do their homework, and c. hate every minute of your class. good job making your job harder, lady!

Teachers like that are a perfect example of why people like you hated math growing up. Luckily, you had a moment in your life where you realized that you liked it. Lots of people never have that moment and spread the "hate" on to there children.

(sorry, didn't realize I was feeling ranty when I started this comment) :)

me said...

Yuck! Bad teacher, bad! Math is great. It was always my favorite subject... except Algebra. Calculus was easier for me that that class. Tell the kids that if it gets frustrating, go do something else for a few minutes, it does get easier. And remember that this subject may just be the one that was the hardest for the teacher so she's passing her phobia along.

Nance said...

Oh, that light bulb shows up in English quite a bit,too! Remember that grammar is kind of like the "math" of English. And, when the student sees the symbolism in something they've read, that light comes on as well. is "lattice" in math??? I know what lattice is on a piecrust, and i know i have lattice on my front porch, but in MATH??? Sigh. Must be this here "new math..."