Tenth Grade Teacher Made Me Feel Useless

Tenth Grade Teacher Made Me Feel Useless

I don’t think I am a poor student by any stretch of the imagination. I think I am reasonably smart and have a well-functioning brain. Back in Tenth Grade my math teacher would have disagreed with you.

I found many of the mathematical theories and processes confusing. It took me a long time to grasp what my teacher thought were simple concepts. At one point, severely frustrated with me, he threatened to deport me to Australia. (Apparently Aussies don’t do math?) He ended up washing his hands of me, and I scraped through my final exams somehow.

Ask my kids when the last time Ima helped them with math homework. They will tell you it was second grade math. What they won’t tell you is that I wouldn’t even try to help with the math homework because I was convinced that I just cannot do math. Some people cannot dance, I cannot do math.

Today, at work, I had to use math. It wasn’t rocket science quadratic equations – but it was still math. And I basically said there was no way I could do this because I cannot do math. Now, at work I will do anything asked of me, even things I don’t know how to do because I know I am learning and it’s all part of my continuing education. I finished everything else on my desk, and still that task waited for me.

Math gives me anxiety. Why? Because I am useless at it. How do I know? Because my teacher told me.

Guess what? I took my time figuring out what I needed to do, and actually managed to complete the task assigned to me. Yes, it took me longer than it should have, but I had to deal with that stupid pathetic inner voice that told me I couldn’t do it.

This teacher probably had no idea how his hurtful attitude shaped me and harmed me. For 28 years I believed I honestly was unable to do anything mathematically related.

In the grand scheme of things, this is not a huge deal, but it goes to show the effect words can have on a young person, and how far they carry that effect.

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1 Comment

  1. sheldan says:

    As you know, I am a (presently retired) math instructor who worked at a community college here. I taught some math courses which were geared toward students similar to yourself–those who needed extra help in order to prepare for the math taught in the college. The courses were equivalent to pre-algebra and algebra.

    Your story is all too familiar with many people I have come into contact with. Many teachers do not have patience with their students, and they are probably responsible for their students giving up and thinking (as you put it), “I can’t do math.”

    What was that teacher thinking by saying (if I remember correctly, you grew up in Wales and/or London), “I’ll deport you to Australia”? I did not really like my senior English class, but my teacher never said or did anything remotely like your math teacher did.

    I made something a major part of my teaching philosophy. I recognized that many students have a real fear of math. So I made it a point to make sure such students felt welcome in my class. I made sure my explanations were clear and my students could ask me freely about things that they did not understand. Since they already had anxiety about math, I did not want to add to it. I think I was relatively successful with this part of my teaching.

    So you proved to yourself that you could do math, regardless of what an old teacher thought. You can do math, and this applies to everyone in the same situation, but the teacher/tutor you have will make a difference.

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