Passing Fear onto Your Students

When I was in student in school, I absolutely hated math.

When I went to teacher’s college, I discovered a new appreciation for the subject that I had dreaded all those years. It was all thanks to a brilliant professor that we had who passed on to us his passion for mathematics.

Well, at least that was his intention. Not all of my fellow classmates figured out what he was doing.

He had us doing problems and working in groups to solve things each and every day.

I remember some of my classmates and would-be teachers, complaining that he wasn’t teaching us how to teach math. They didn’t want to do math problems all day long. They just wanted some strategies on how to teach it.

But this professor was brilliant. He realized that teachers can’t teach math unless they know how to do it themselves.

I was fortunate enough that my first teaching assignment was teaching advanced mathematics to gifted students. At first, I thought that I was probably the worst person for this job. I hated math when I was a kid. I learned a lot in teacher’s college but I was by no means an expert. I had a passion for teaching, however, and I think that is what got me the job.

I had to figure out how to do the problems I was teaching every day. I would go in to school early and get some instruction on the math before I taught it. It was tough work but I enjoyed the challenge and passed my passion and excitement on to the students.

I am glad that I had the opportunity to teach advanced math for a year because I am now quite good at primary and junior math. I know how to do it and I have the confidence that I can teach it.

But what are you to do if you hated math as a kid and didn’t get a good experience with it at teacher’s college like I did?

Will you pass on your fear of math to the students you teach?

Will your students see that math is something that is difficult and something that they should be afraid of?

The answer to all these questions is yes.

So, even if you hate math, you need to find something in it that can excite you.

Teaching is like acting. We need to convince our audience (the students) that what we are doing is worthwhile. Otherwise, they will tune us out. So get on stage when you teach. Find something exciting about it. Pass on the passion and not the fear.

That is my teaching tip for the week. I hope you have found it helpful. Don’t forget to check my Table of Contents for close to 50 great tips and ideas you can use in your classroom. If you have an idea you’d like to share please leave a comment or consider writing a guest post here. Thanks!

2 responses to “Passing Fear onto Your Students”

  1. I give total props to that prof, too. I still use his material and often remember his stories of teaching his kid and his friends math in the garage. He had such a passion for math and it definitely was contagious. I still secretly fear math sometimes, but I'm definitely a much better teacher for having sat through that class. He was awesome.

    I had a little girl in my grade 4 class a couple of years ago who was a total enigma. Sadly, the year before she had been made to feel totally incompetant in math by a teacher with a professed love for the subject. I witnessed a particularly upsetting interaction between the two once. It became very clear why this girl shut down during math class. At any rate, when I had her, I wondered if she had a learning disability or simply a math phobia of sorts. I pushed to have her tested and at the end of the process it turned out that she did not have a learning disability, but did indeed have a fear of math that impeded her learning. Unfortunately, the results came in the following year so I don't know how her achievement improved with this knowledge, but I do know that her teacher was going to embrace it and do all he could to turn it around.

    Anyway, my point is that one way or the other a teacher can affect a student's attitude toward any subject. In my scenario, the teacher was not willing to nurture the student or attempt to share her love of math and it had dire consequences. I learned a lot from that situation and have vowed to make math as fun and interesting as possible for my students.

    Thanks for putting this topic out there today, Chase. I think it's definitely important for teachers (and parents, too) to reflect on the attitudes that they are impressing on their students. This is true not only in math but in a myriad of other topics as well.

    – Elle

  2. Hi Elle,

    Thanks for sharing that story.

    Of course, there is a problem too with making math fun. I see teachers who just use games and the SMARTboards all the time. Everyone seems to think it is great. But I see that we are slowly turning education into entertainment and that is taking it too far in the other direction.

    As teachers, we need to ride a balance between work and fun to motivate our students to do the work that is needed so they can learn.