I recently had a conversation with a young man about math. He said “I used to be good at math.” Of course, I asked what happened. He told me how he earned good grades in math through the 5th grade. When he went to middle school, he had a terrible experience with his math teacher. On this particular day, he earned a low grade on a test. The teacher spoke to him in a very demeaning tone. He does not remember what she said to him, but he remembers that the way she said it made him feel poorly about himself. This one day affected his future math grades and attitude towards math.
This story is not unique. It happens all the time. In fact, most students who struggle with math had a negative experience centered around math (a punishment for not answering a question correctly, embarrassing remarks made by a teacher (or parent) about their performance, or even being ridiculed while working out a math problem on the chalk board). In either case, the incident impacts the student’s feelings about math. It has a lasting psychological effect on the student, which ultimately impacts their performance in math courses.
The young man I discussed earlier had a rekindled love of math when he went to college. He did well for a while. Unfortunately, he had another bad experience centered around math. He said he just gave up and said “I guess it’s not meant for me to get math.”
I am very saddened by this story, and even more saddened that teachers and educators continue to discourage students’ love of math. It only takes one sideways glance, snarl, or comment to turn a student away from math (or any subject for that matter).
As teachers, educators, mentors, parents, etc. let us encourage the love of math that our students exhibit. Even if they are an average student, encourage their effort and work. This will make them want to work harder and perform better.
Please make every effort to have a lasting, positive effect on the student who (unknowingly) relies on you for encouragement and approval!