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I hate math.

It's true. I really do hate math, and have since time immemorial. We're just... not friends. It's not something that has ever come naturally to me.
 
"Well, wait a minute here. Aren't you primarily a math tutor??" You might be thinking this right about now, and if you're not, you should be. Because, yes, I am in fact primarily a math tutor, and have enjoyed a fair amount of success with my students. Clearly, this presents something of a conflict of interest with the previous statement.
 
The truth is, I tutor math BECAUSE I hate math. Here's my logic: I know what it's like. I know how it feels to (seemingly) be the only one to "not get it." I remember, all too clearly, late nights, tears, and lowered self-esteem over not feeling intelligent because of math assignments. And now, in adulthood, having gone up through Calculus II in college, I realize I CAN do it, I just didn't THINK I could. I didn't feel like I measured up, but it was just perception borne of frustration.
 
Now that I have learned, and can perform the concepts, I further realize: If I could do it all along, anyone can! There are hundreds of people out there just like me, who feel stupid because they didn't automatically understand math concepts. But, here's the thing: they are NOT stupid. I'm not stupid. And no one should feel that way just because of one measly (albeit important) subject.
 
And so, I tutor math. I tutor for the students who were in my shoes, who needed a teacher that wasn't just a math teacher (you know the type - it makes perfect sense to them, so surely their rushed explanation should make sense to you to!), but just a plain old teacher who happened to be able to explain math concepts. The difference, of course, is in knowing how to approach the subject. As someone who - more often than not - needed back-door or other unorthodox explanations for concepts, I now find myself utilizing those approaches to help my students understand. It doesn't seem strange to me, because that was how I had to figure it out myself. Having a student not cotton to a concept immediately doesn't make me automatically think they're slow or ungifted; rather, it's an instant red-flag that they simply need a different approach to learning.
 
Never has this been driven home more forcefully than with some of my recent students. Their parents would tell me things like "he/she isn't doing well in math, and feels too shy to ask questions [for fear of feeling stupid], and it's really hurting their self-esteem/performance in other subjects." This makes me SO. SAD. Primarily, because as I said, no one should feel stupid just because of one subject that might not be their strength. But, secondarily, because I remember what it's like to be there. It's not fun. Frankly, it's very discouraging, especially when you see your friends garnering As in those very classes. Thirdly, I know for a fact that those very students are bright and intelligent and have no reason to be embarrassed!
 
My goal is to raise my students' self-esteem. My goal is to make them comfortable asking questions. Chances are, if x doesn't make sense to them, it didn't make sense to a whole lot of other people too (including, back in the day, their own tutor!). My goal is to show them that, yes, it might take a little more work than it seems to take your friends, but you, too, can get good grades in math. You, too, can take college math in high school. You ARE smart enough. In fact, you are smart!
 
The truth is, when it comes down to it, I wish I could have had a teacher or tutor like me. Does that sound too self-important? What I mean is, pretty much all of my math teachers were just that, math teachers. They weren't necessarily teachers so much as they were good at math. Therefore, they couldn't conceive that students like me would need new and different explanations to understand the material being presented. It was hard for them to boil explanations down to "brass tacks"- just the basics, so I could learn, concept building on concept.
 
It is my wish that I - and all students like me (past, present, and future) - can have teachers and tutors who know and acknowledge that not everyone "gets it" right away. We all deserve to be taught in a way that helps us realize the intelligence we already posses.

Comments

Excellent perspective, Karli! Though I'm one of those to whom math came rather easily, I find that, like you, I can empathize with students - realizing that everyone understands and learns differently - and I'm able to detect the particular points that need reinforcement. In a way, I envy you for having struggled with math and having worked hard to master it. In your struggle, you gained, from a young age, very useful insight into how students think about and learn math. Though I cannot claim this same advantage, I, too, had some marginal math teachers. My own ease with math helped me through it, but, doubtless, some of my class mates were not so lucky. Perhaps my memories of my math teachers help me to try harder to transcend their example, and I admit that I am much more a teacher than I am a mathematician. Remaining sensitive of each student's needs and affectations makes a huge difference in their progress!
By the way, I lived in New Orleans in the late '80s and often miss it. Occasional visits help me get by, but my fond memories cause me to want to return someday as a resident. You're a musician, too? We might know some of the same people. Small world!