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

herself.

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.