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Are there two kinds of math students?

I once heard the following remark from an acquaintance: “There are two kinds of math students: those who get it the first time, and those who never do.”

I will never forget how this comment silenced us, a small group of friends who were all hanging out and discussing what careers we wanted to pursue. What silenced us was not just the cruelty of the remark, but that the speaker was an aspiring math teacher who was working as a tutor while completing his undergraduate math degree. I had just asked him what it was like to tutor math. Apparently, his answer constituted his entire teaching philosophy.

What I have observed throughout my experience as a tutor is the complete opposite of his claim. Every mind is different and requires a different key to unlocking understanding. It is a matter of the student putting in the time, trying different approaches to problems, and finding what way his/her own mind learns. If the student makes unsatisfactory progress with a certain tutor, then the tutor may not be a good match for the student, but it doesn’t mean that the student is incapable of learning the material! Every student deserves a tutor who believes in the student's ability to learn.

To me, if there are two kinds of math students, then they would be those who want to learn math, and those who don’t. To the former, I will do all I can to help you along your journey. To the latter, I will do all I can to inspire you to take the first step.

Comments

I completely agree! Every person is different, so the way the learn and absorb information differs as well.
Well said - there are so many types of learners, and one doesn't need to read up on fancy sounding things like constructivism to notice that learning happens when there's a good "fit" between internal mental models and the external information being explored. All of us have strengths and weaknesses, or as I prefer, strengths and areas of challenge. I might quote him a bit  "too much" (I have the PUP's The Quotable Einstein) but one of my handful favorite quotes from him on Education is the following, which your comments reminded me of Tiffany:
 
"Most teachers waste their time by asking questions which are intended
to discover what a pupil does not know , whereas the true art of
questioning has for it purpose to discover what the pupil does know, or is
capable of knowing" A. Einstein

(1920 quoted in Moszkowski, conversations with Einstein, p65, referenced in Princeton University Press's The Quotable Einstein)