One of the hats I wear is that of a math tutor. When I was a little girl, I would chant counting games as I jumped rope, and the neighborhood children and I would play a game called school. The game “school” was a silly one. All the children except the one designated “teacher” would sit on the bottom step. We lived in a neighborhood where there were long embankments and a lengthy concrete staircase that led up to the yard. It was a really old neighborhood. The little bungalows were close to 100 years old. Anyway, all the children would start out on the bottom step.
The “teacher” would have a stone in one hand. She would place her hands behind her back and put the stone in one hand, and bring two closed hands out in front of her, trying to disguise which hand held the stone. She would go to the first “student” who would tap the hand he/she thought held the stone. She would open her hand. If the stone was revealed, the student “advanced” up a step and sat there. Otherwise, he/she was retained. Then she would put her hands behind her back, hide the stone in a hand, pull her hands out front and go to the next “student”.
After going to each student once, she would go another round with each student. The first student to reach the top step graduated and became the teacher. Occasionally, a teacher would CHEAT and have the stone in neither hand. Oh, the uproar if that teacher got caught (and he/she always did get caught)! We all knew if was impossible for every “student” to guess wrong. We were hardwired for math even then!
My dad would play pacing games with me to get me to learn my math facts fast. Jump rope and jacks always involved math and counting. Of course through all of this I had no idea that math was something I loved. I thought I only loved reading, research, writing, and history! How funny it is, then, that math is the subject I truly LOVE to teach.
As I tell my students, math is flawless as a subject. It is predictable and surmountable. What I found to be true is this; when I learned a math concept that I had struggled to learn, I felt like a hotshot. I felt glowingly smart. I LOVE that feeling. Don’t you? That feeling is tangible and has value. You see, with math you really can get the right answer. In this changing and at times arbitrary world, that is reassuring. Math is not opinions and persuasion. It is not emotion, it is fact. AND you get to work in pencil, erasing your errors and re-doing until it is right.
I think God is the ultimate mathematician, of course. St. Patrick explained the trinity with a shamrock. I think an equilateral triangle is even better! Solving proportions, scale factors, angle sizes, linear equations ~ oh yes, I love them all. My Shepherd, of course, is there in it all. He and I are together. When I am small and diminished, like an acute angle, He comes and sweeps over me, like an obtuse angle. We combine and are a straight angle ~ headed on His path.
Now, many of my students have a problem, so to speak, setting up equations from word problems. Perhaps that is why my path towards becoming a math lover and tutor began with a love of words, analyzing, interpreting, and researching the meaning of literature. I thought about words and their meaning my whole life. Words weren’t scary. sometimes thinking about math was scary because I didn’t automatically understand it!
Now I have students that feel that way. They may not believe it today, but I am betting that some of them will fall in love with math! Their fears will dissolve as they gain confidence. After all, isn’t that true for each of us? We gain strength due to our struggles. Eventually we truly come to know “hey that wasn’t so hard after all”. Today, may your troubles feel surmountable. More about this next time. A math post MUST come in at least 2 parts, right?