It's the beginning of report card season.
Last night, I got a phone call from the father
of a student I tutor in math.
Miss M, the student I've worked with the
longest, just received her report card.
My goal has never been for grades.
I want my students to understand the math
that presents itself to them. I meet too many
adults who fear math, who hate it, and I want
to minimize that. Numbers aren't the enemy,
any more than words are, or science is.
Grades are nice markers, but my first foes
are fear and loathing. My second enemy is
misunderstanding. Grades? With luck,
they are a nice after thought or a reward
at the end of a long term.
Miss M struggles with math.
She and I have developed a mantra when
a new section is introduced in math class:
"Give yourself permission to not understand.
Stay calm. Be kind to yourself.
You won't get it the first time.
You many not get it the second time,
or the third, but you will understand it.
You have to give yourself permission not
to understand. Stay calm. Be kind to yourself."
When we first started to work together in
elementary school, our main goal was to keep
her math anxiety in check, so she wouldn't pass
out or end up at home with a migraine.
Our secondary, pie-in-the-sky goal was for her to
pass the standardized 5th grade test. Despite a
doctor's offer to give her a waiver, Miss M
soldiered on. We set about finding ways of looking
at the problems that worked for her. We began
to map her personal strengths and weaknesses,
and how she could build on the strong bits.
This is her first year in high school,
and we've been meeting more frequently as she
navigates a rigorous, private high school math program.
Geometry is a course that challenges most
of her vulnerabilities in math. She has a profound
deficit in pattern recognition, something that is
essential in geometry. What I've seen this semester,
as we work more intensely together, is how far
she's come since we first started working together in
elementary school. Not only is she more capable,
she is more confident. The fear of not knowing,
or of being wrong, doesn't have the strangle
hold it once did. These years of intense work
are paying off in more ways that just the ability
to solve a problem in a text. She doesn't fear
the unknown like she used to. She is kinder to
Miss M is away with her Mom, but her father
had to call me, because her report card had
arrived and he just couldn't stand it.
Miss M has an "A" in Geometry.