How I Learned or Didn’t Learn to Teach Mathematics

In 1982 a graduate student DM supervised my student teaching at a middle school in Central New York. I had some time to plan lessons, and I was scared out of my wits. DM was gentle and direct. She gave me little things I could work on to improve my practice. I did not learn how to teach during student teaching, but I did learn that nothing is perfect and you have to put yourself into a different space to help students learn. I learned how difficult teaching was. It was not until a few years later; I read “Freedom to Learn” by Carl Rogers. This book allowed me to understand the power I had to assist in student learning, but why didn’t I get that then. Why didn’t I get that teaching was about facilitating learning. Jack Mallan’s “No Giver’s of Direction–No Gods In the Classroom” did not make sense to me when it was required, but Carl did, once I started to teach. The power to teach is in the trust you have in yourself and the trust you build in your students to learn. Teaching math is a subject that screams trust your students because we all are born mathematicians. We all can engage with one another as we build our capacity to learn math. It is a subject that requires interaction, iteration, experimentation, communication, and creativity. These processes are we learn and do mathematics.

In hindsight, it was Dr. HJ who convinced me that Mathematics Education was the path for me, and I learned about teaching EOP students as part of a summer program back in 1983. I was trusted by Dr. HJ to teach mathematics to new students at a good university. Somehow I was trusted as a new teacher to figure out what to do. Why Dr. HJ. trusted me, I have no idea. I taught exactly how I was taught. Students learned, but I also learned things that are never in a textbook. I learned how to ensure that students’ learning, but not by accident. Everything I learned in school, taught me how to teach, but only after I was teaching.

I learned about “mathematics anxiety while working for the EOP program at SUNY Oswego. I will never forget the mentoring done by PP and others. They believed in a process for helping students get past their bad experiences in mathematics to a new experience of passing a math class to meet the graduation requirement. In that short almost four year experience, I learned that at any point in someone’s lives they could change. They can change their attitudes towards mathematics and build success for themselves. I learned patience, and I gained gratitude for all the teachers who had to deal with me over the years. The EOP program, and the courses I taught helped me realize that I did believe that everyone could do the math and that it was my responsibility to ensure that my practices included both emotional support, cognitive supports, and hard work reminders. Without the EOP experience, I might not have understood that there is another world out there preparing people to investigate mathematics and their place in it.

What a gift it is to be supervising student teachers. I see all of my faults in their behaviors. I see myself 30 years ago trying to figure out how to talk to the students, teach content, watch the clock and figure out why students don’t stay in their seats. There is no need to figure all of this out. The most important thing with this math thing is to trust in the students who have to learn to learn. We cannot assume they are going to make mistakes, but we can assume that when they make mistakes, that there is someone there to help learn from those mistakes. Yes, yes, we learn more from our mistakes than we learn from not pushing ourselves to the limit. I love math because it challenges my thinking, my interactions with others, and my deepest desires to know be successful.