Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Truce

I was recently at a meeting where two wonderful English teachers were presenting a really cool strategy that they use in their classrooms. They even went a step further and tried to imagine what their strategy would look like in a history, math, or science classroom. Whoa! I thought that was so admirable.

But...they prefaced their math and science ideas with, "We're just really not any good at math and science, so we did what we could."  (I thought their math and science ideas were fabulous.)


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At church on Sunday, one of the pastors was talking about how we could help send our teens on spring break missions trips.  He was excited because someone had offered a matching grant for up to $35,000 (wohoo!).  He started giving examples of different ways we could get to that $35,000 mark (i.e., 700 people giving $50; 35 people giving $1000; 35000 people giving $1, etc).  He made a comment like, "My high school teachers would be amazed that I could do this math for you."  Everyone chuckled.

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If you're a math teacher, you probably get just as discouraged as I do when adults say things like "Math just really isn't my thing." Or, "I was never really any good at math." I get anxious every time someone asks what I do or where I work because I know exactly where it's going and how it will end:

"I'm a teacher."

"Oh wow! What do you teach?"

[pause here as I wonder if there's a better way to say what I'm about to say...]

"High school math."

"Oh god. I was never any good at math. Glad there are people like you out there."

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"People like me"? What does that even mean? What does it mean to be good at math? Whose definition are we using? And please don't tell me you say that in front of your kids because you just gave them a pass not to try in math class.  

As "math people" it's really frustrating for us that it's culturally acceptable to declare your mathematical illiteracy, but totally unacceptable to say, "I was never any good at that whole reading thing."

This double-standard has got to stop. Especially if we're serious about developing our STEM programs around the country.

But...

If I'm being totally honest, I perpetuate that double-standard, too (just the other way around). When kids come and wallow about an essay that's due in history or the novel they have to read in English, I totally play along. And that's totally not ok. Even a simple, consolatory "I'm sorry," should never come out of my mouth. Because I'm not sorry. I'm so glad they're reading and writing and learning about other places and cultures. But I completely admit to not supporting other subjects like I should because I constantly feel the need to defend mathematics.

And so, to the great Internets, can we call a truce? I will be an advocate for your subject and your passion. Would you be an advocate for mine? Can we be a unified front on this issue? Can we vow to defend all aspects of education?

I think our kids need and deserve that from us.  Besides, who ever said you have to choose between math and English, anyway?

4 comments:

  1. >When kids come and wallow about an essay that's due in history or the novel they have to read in English, I totally play along. And that's totally not ok.

    If they hate the particular book, I'm with them.

    And writing essays that only one person will read? That's crazy.

    So I might empathize about the particular assignment, but talk about how I love reading and discussing books, or how I found out in college that I loved history.

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    1. I agree--empathy is good. But I don't want to give my students any reason to think that I don't value what they're studying in their other classes. Will they use everything they learn in English and history class? No. But they won't use everything they learn in my class either. I guess, ultimately, I want to send the message that learning is a privilege...even if it's not "fun" at the time.

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  2. One of the ways I combat this is to make sure that my students know that I've read some of what they are reading and learned some of what they've learned and, here comes the good part… I remember some of it! I can talk to them intelligently about The Scarlet Letter or The Louisiana Purchase or a Punnett Square. I hope that by showing them that their math teacher has been able to remember some of what he was asked to master that maybe they can as well.

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    1. I love that, Mr. Dardy. I need to be more intentional about understanding what my kids are learning in their other classes. I think that would go a long way.

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