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On Math....

As I child, I had what seemed like an endless battle with math. I hated it. Whether straight-up arithmetic or cleverly buried in the depths of a word problem, all math homework questions were, to me, created equally evil. The worst part of it is this: I was, in fact, rather capable of quite complicated math. At one point I found myself belonging to a 5th-grade math class while still as 2nd-grader. So the problem was not that I wasn't smart enough. The problem was that I didn't LIKE it. It didn't come easily. It was frustrating and time-consuming.

As an adult, I realize these problems could have been relatively easily rectified. I wound up studying as far as college-level Calculus II before I ceased taking math classes. I fought an uphill battle all the way. I look back on my experiences and realize - those moments of clarity in math classes, and therefore the concepts I remember most to this day - were the immediate result of someone bothering to slow down and explain the material in a way that MADE SENSE TO ME.

The issue wasn't a lack of ability to understand. The problem was a different way of understanding. Occasionally I would have a teacher or a tutor who would come up with a new way to explain a principle outside of the standard "then you do this, then this, then this, now you're done!" As soon as this "backdoor" explanation was given, suddenly the concept was elucidated in my mind and made sense to me. I may not have been a natural at mathematics, but I was absolutely capable of learning if only the material was presented effectively.

Today, I try my utmost to utilize this lesson in my own teaching and tutoring. Simply because a concept makes sense to me as the tutor doesn't mean it makes sense to my student the way I've explained it. More often than not, a backdoor explanation is needed in order to really solidify understanding. I strive to emulate the “wait-stop” principle used by my 6th grade teacher… if at any point a student doesn’t understand, they should feel like they can interrupt everything to ask for clarification. In other words, no matter how well I feel like I’m explaining things, my student should always be able to tell me “wait, stop!” and ask questions.

When one is allowed to ask questions, math becomes slightly less evil!