Thursday, October 15, 2009

Math Anxiety

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.


Layrayski said...

I am so happy for your son. He looks like he has a great math teacher! (jealous too he he he)

Like you math is my weakest subject. I'd have loved to see a bill of rights like that- given to us by OUR math teachers.


Betts said...

I had the same math problems (no pun intended). I managed to muddle through Geometry and Algebra I, but God, I hated it. I hope my daughter has a better experience than I did. Sounds like your son is.

Daphne said...

Thank goodness! That's awesome. I did great at math until, oh, fourth grade or so. And then, suddenly, it all turned to gibberish. I liked anything involving story problems or shapes (I liked basic geometry and simple trig) but anything using actual numbers and hard calculations... no way. I had to take trig and calculus in high school and it was torture. Those were my only two Cs in my entire high school career and it was genuinely the best I could do. I had to take a statistics class a few years ago. I got an A in the class, but only because we were allowed to use notes for the test. As evidenced by the one test where I forgot my notes, and got a D. Oh well.

Mari said...

Good for the boy! Btw, Tammie, did you see that Alec Baldwin is on Bill Maher Friday night (tomorrow)?

Hotch Potchery said...

I like the Bill of Math Rights too! Luckily, we are all math nerds in our family...ha ha, lucky and nerds together.

Not Your Aunt B said...

I was a total nerd but a total dumbass when it came to math. The only math class I did well in was trig. I think it all has to do with the way your brain works as algebra was horrible and anything based on algebra (i.e. the rest of math) was horrible too. But trig made sense, I think because it is more spatial and I am good at that. My college tutor for calculus quit on me because I was "impossible" to teach. I still don't know my times tables and had to memorize them for the GRE (which I promptly erased from my brain). It makes me anxious just thinking about math. I don't know if having a better teacher would have helped, but it couldn't have hurt and maybe I'd be less anxious about it.

DysFUNctional Mom said...

WOW. Your son is lucky to have that teacher. That seriously could have been life-changing for me.

Simbelmynë said...

I am totally copying this to our homeschool blog, so that I can write it out in black magic marker on the wall. Maybe I'll replace Math with something more general.

Awesome, thank you!

alisha said...

what a wonderful teacher he has! if only each one was so present in their duties to have one of these.

Tammie said...

mari: i didnt know that..but i dont have HBO. so its up to you to watch it and relay any highlights. :)

hester said...

That's a very impressive maths teacher. Not like the scary one I had at high school. Maths was my weak subject too. Ms Strange sounds unbelievable. I would have been in tears in the back row!

Barefoot_Mommy said...

Your son's teacher sounds awesome!

I wish that I could say I had the same problem with math... but I was one of those freaks that it always came naturally to. In fact, I once contemplated teaching math, but then I had the babies and school just didn't seem that important anymore.

If I WERE a math teacher, though, I'd want to be one like your son's.

Dani said...

Love that. I have had math anxiety since 4th grade with the timed multiplication tests. Ever since then I have convinced myself that I am just not up to par. Self fulfilling prophesy.

I'm behind in commenting with my computer on the fritz...