Sunday, November 22, 2009
Two Loves: Math and Teenagers
One of my favorite parts of my teaching job is helping high school students do math. I have a student who looks like a long-haired skateboarder who is imminently ready to drop out of school. When he first came he HATED school and often chose to ditch class at his old school. When we first met, he wouldn't make eye contact and grunted instead of speaking in sentences. Slowly he's grown to tolerate and then be successful at school. He's completing classes and earning As. Last week he struggled with Algebra 2, and said "I hate this problem. I know I can still pass the test even if I miss all the ones like this." I talked to him about how math is teaching him more than Algebra; it's meant to teach him perseverance. In other cultures students will persist through the hard problems until they get the answer, but generally American kids give up after five minutes. They don't have the perseverance. I showed him how to make the problem easier by getting rid of the fractions, and he went back to his desk. Ten minutes later he was at my desk again. "When am I ever going to need to solve a linear system of three variables in real life?" "In any job you get you will need problem-solving skills and persistence. Don't you think there are times when I want to give up teaching you stuff? We all need to learn perseverance. Besides you are at the bad part now. Stuck in the not-being-able-to-solve-it-yet part. If you stick it out you'll get to the good part where it feels great to get the right answer." He rolled his eyes and continued working on the problem and eventually got the right answer. "Doesn't it feel great to know you were smart enough to solve it?" "If you say so." The next day he earned an A on the test. He said happily "I am so stoked right now. Is this what you were talking about yesterday? I think I get it now." I have such a great job.