Today, I had the privilege of co-facilitating the beginning of a new, advanced math teacher’s cohort in my district called “Math Rocks”. I am working with the most amazing group of 3-5 teachers. These teachers are courageous, passionate, empathetic math leaders who want to grow as math teachers.
We began our time together thinking and reflecting about our feelings surrounding how we learned math as a child.
I have always, for as long as I can remember, loved playing with numbers. I was never interested in learning formulas but give me a number, and I could break it apart and find patterns within the number and “play” with the number for days.
In elementary, middle and high school, I didn’t have to study very hard. Putting the book under my pillow was usually enough. It wasn’t until college that I encountered experiences that were all to common for the teachers in our cohort.
I had two experiences that stood out in my mind today: The first was when I told my adviser that I wanted to specialize in math as I earned my credential. She reached out, took my hand, and said “Oh, Honey. Girls don’t do math-they do language arts”. This was in 1995. The second was in calculus. It was nothing but learning formulas…I couldn’t make sense of it. It was HARD. I kept asking a young man in the class to explain, again, and again. Finally, he’d had enough. He grabbed my big, ol’ texbook, snapped it shut and slammed it on my desk saying “You are so stupid”. Believe it or not, his remark didn’t crush me. I had already had plenty of positive experiences and I love math. What I got from that experience is a taste of what it feels like to be a student who struggles with math. And then someone says “What’s wrong with you—it’s easy?!?!?!?” Recipe for math anxiety right there!
Teachers today opened their hearts, and allowed themselves to be vulnerable as they shared their early experiences in math. Some were positive, but for many teachers (and adults) math was a scary experience. Stress and confusion were all too common. I was heartened to hear how the teachers want the math experiences of their students to be different from their experiences.
Today, we had laughter, hope and a determination that all students will consider math a subject open for them. It is a journey that we will make together, so that we can guard the tender hearts of our students, and provide them opportunities to make sense of, and love math too!