"Education is not a product: mark, diploma, job, money; It is a process, a never-ending one." -bel kaufman

Wednesday, September 22, 2004


i am grading math homework

who would have guessed? but anyone who knows my 8 month history at APHS won't find this as a shock. since beginning here, i have taught english, environmental science, journalism, photography, and art. i even substituted in Spanish class once. last friday, when the principal told me that she needed to open up a new section of math and that she wanted me to teach the class, i told her i would look forward to the challenge. and truthfully, i do. of course, i became nervous at the thought of solving mathematics equations on the board, and immediatly thoughts of sixth grade math class began to fill my mind. my sixth grade math teacher was old and strict, and to make it worse, she had braces and was despised by every student. my memories of elementary school are sparse on details, but i remember this math teacher forced me to stand at the board and solve a problem. she knew i didn't know the answer or how to solve it. i'm sure she was trying to use me as an example for the other students: pay attention and work obediently and you won't have to embarrass yourself in front of the class. and yes, i felt embarrassed, like an idiot who lacked the intelligence to be any good at math. this math problem seemed impossible to me. so i stood at the chalk board, frozen with my back to the class so no one would notice the tears rolling down my face.

the truth, now that i look back on this experience, is that she emarrassed me because she failed to find a way to teach me how to solve this problem, failed to engage me, and then used me to make herself feel guiltless and powerful. fortunatly, the only thing proven, even to the eleven year-olds in the room, was that she was wicked and spiteful. completing her assignments felt pointless because success would only feel empty with her. what was our inspiration? our reason to succeed? i had a hard time enjoying mathematics after that experience. math remained cryptic until one summer when i was stuck in summer school before my tenth-grade year. the class was composed of two students and one teacher. i was enrolled in private school, but this teacher was regularly a public school teacher during the acidemic year, crossing over during the summer to our school perhaps to make some extra money. somehow, and i wish i remembered his technique, he broke down algebra into something decipherable and, eventually, something i became fluent in. i entered tenth-grade mathematics class that september with confidence, sitting in the front row and answering questions with confidence. i earned an A and truely felt good about myself.

i wish i could remember that teacher's name. i wish i felt like i could track him down.

You're lucky that you eventually had someone who was able to explain it to you in a language that you could understand.
I had a similar experience in the third grade where I was humliated in front of the entire class and made to be an "example" for my peers. Unfortunatly for me, I've always felt that I was just too stupid for math and I've never understood it.
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