One day last week I was helping my son with his pre-algebra homework, and I use the word "help" in the loosest possible sense. As he was working out his problems, I was thumbing through his math notebook, which at only two months into the school year, is already dog eared and packed with notes. I came across an interesting handout from the teacher entitled Math Anxiety Bill of Rights, which states:
1. I have the right to learn at my own pace.
2. I have the right to ask whatever questions I have.
3. I have the right to need extra help.
4. I have the right to ask a teacher for help.
5. I have the right to feel good about myself regardless of my abilities in math.
6. I have the right to view myself as capable of learning math.
7. I have the right to evaluate my math instructors and how they teach.
8. I have the right to relax.
9. I have the right to be treated as a competent person.
10. I have the right to like my other classes more than I like math.
11. I have the right to define success in my own terms.
I couldn't tell you how overjoyed I was to see this. This is a teacher that gets it. And I have to admit that I had my doubts about her. At first she seemed overly particular and persnickety. But what do I know? Maybe that's what it takes to be a good math teacher. She's obviously doing something right. My son's average in her class fluctuates between 99% and 115%, which no matter how you look at it, is awesome.
I wish I had seen this bill of rights when I was in school. Starting in about the sixth grade, math became a major source of anxiety for me. I had always been, and would continue to be, an A-B student. Except for math. If I was lucky I could pull in a C-, and if I'm being totally honest, that was with a heavy amount of cheating. Don't get me wrong, I tried to understand algebra and geometry on my own, without the 'assistance' of my peers. I remember staring at my math book night after night, near tears, trying to wrap my brain around those problems and just not understanding what I was looking at. There is nothing worse than studying hours for a test and then getting it back and seeing some ludicrously low score like a 22%, at the top.
Looking back, I don't think any of my math teachers were all that helpful during those years. Especially Ms. Strange. Honest to god, that was her name. I had her for 10th grade geometry and mathematically speaking, it was one of the worst years of my life. Ms. Strange would enter the classroom, write the assignment on the board, work out one example problem, and instruct us to get to work. What we didn't finish in class was to be homework. Then she'd walk over and rest her head on her desk for the next 40 minutes.
I remember one time, bravely walking from my seat in the back of the room (behind Pam, my friend with the very liberal attitude towards cheating) up to Ms. Strange's desk. It seemed like miles. When I got there, I told her I just couldn't do it and I think I needed some extra help. She quickly worked out another example problem and then asked me if I understood. I didn't, but I said yes just so I could go back to my seat. I couldn't put it into words then, but now I realize I felt as if I was wasting her time, like she'd rather be somewhere else. (ahem...see Bill of Rights numbers 1-4 and then 7) I ended up passing the class with a D. And that was only because of Pam. After that year I figured I'd never learn this stuff, (see Bill of Rights number 6) and I started taking remedial math courses just so that I'd have enough math credits to graduate high school. ( I passed all the remedial classes with an A average. I can do basic math, it's the advanced stuff that makes my eyes glaze over.)
I can't entirely blame my teachers for my math problems. No one is good at everything and it may just be that math is one of those things that I would never have been good at no matter who it was that was instructing me. But after seeing the math education that my son is getting, I definitely don't think I was given the same chance to succeed. Thank goodness for Pam.