I have dyslexia. I reverse letters, shapes, numbers,
number sequences, and directions. I have tools I constantly
use to coach myself through left and right. I have good
days. I have bad days. And no, this doesn't stop me
from tutoring math. In fact, I think it makes me better
One of my students has a math teacher who looks
blankly at her when she says she doesn't understand
where an element in an equation came from. He cuts
corners in his Algebra 2 class. He skips steps in his
equations, because he doesn't need them. He can see the
sequence, so it's obvious. We've talked, he and I, about
showing his work, but because these steps are all so
clear cut to him, he doesn't know when he's doing it.
There are two kinds of passionate practitioners in a
craft. There are those who excel naturally, for whom
all the elements come easily. Yes, they work hard,
but they are assembling a kit where the pieces are
preformed. And then there are those who love
something, and strive, and struggle, and move forward
without preexisting skill. They create the elements
they need from scratch.
Personally, I think all math teachers should have
had the experience of sitting, ill prepared, for
a math test. They should know that pounding of the
heart, the shaking of the hand, the dry mouth,
the swimming numbers, the cold knowledge that
there is a pattern, and method, and you haven't
been able to absorb it. They should have had
that bitter taste at the back of the pallet when
they turn in an unfinished test that they know is
Why? Because, guaranteed, they will have students
who feel that way.
Back to the teacher for whom math is always easy,
if you've never had to struggle to learn something,
how can you explain it to others? If the pattern is
always obvious, how can you describe it? It is much
harder to put yourself in a place of deficiency, if you've
never been there.
If you had asked me, twenty five years ago, if I'd ever
be tutoring math, I would have laughed and laughed.
I would have said, "I'm not good at math."
There is a confusion, I think, about proficiency and passion.
I talk to people who respond to the question, "Do you like..?"
by saying "I'm not good at that." I think that being "good"
at a task isn't the partner of enjoying something. I don't
think people should be limited by their innate skills.
"I cannot do that, because I am not good at it." is one of
the saddest statements around.
What happened to turn me around?
Calculus and physics. In college, I had a passionate fling
with physics. Which meant retaking all of my math,
from the beginning. And then I met calculus.
My (eventual) husband and I went to the Devil's Cauldron
for a weekend beach getaway*, and as we watched
the waves bound and rebound against the rock walls
I thought, "Math can describe all this." and that
was the start. I was not suddenly "Good" at math,
but I was smitten with it.
I tutor math because I want people to be able to
find the joy and the beauty in it. I want to take away
the fear and the frustration that comes from not being
"good". I know that intestine knotting feeling of
failing a test, or not understanding, or needing another
viewpoint. I know what it is to have a teacher look blankly
at me, when I say I don't understand. I know how much
harder it is to understand if you are scared. One of my
math sessions isn't a good math session if there isn't
laughter in there somewhere.
And, if you asked me today, "Are you good at math?"
I would say, "No, but I love it and it brings me joy."
I work at math. I study. I practice. I think about it.
Sometimes, I make mistakes. Somedays, my Math
Brain suffers, or my dyslexia is stronger. Sometimes
my students point out my mistakes, and when that
happens, I say, "Good job! That was awesome!
What do I need to do?"
Perfection is overrated. Compassion, isn't.
* Not my video, but it illustrates my point