December 06, 2007

Loving Math... One Kid at a Time

I thought I’d do a bit of an update on the young man I am tutoring in Algebra II. He’s a smart kid, he had just gotten himself into a bit of a jam with not understanding it all, it building up, and then his confidence took a big hit. When we started, he was pulling a C-, pushing towards a D. He ended the 9 weeks with a solid C.

It was a start.

I’ve been pretty honest with him about his teacher. I don’t like his teaching style. I understand where he is coming from, but I don’t think it’s conducive to teenagers… or anyone for that matter. Maybe confident college students… but not teenagers.

If you ask a question in class, he makes the student get up in front of the entire class and work out the problem… stumbling through it with the rest of the class offering assistance in what step is next.

I don’t call that teaching. I call that humiliating. Of course, nobody wants to ask questions. Every now and then someone gets the guts, but this boy I’m tutoring says really only the smart kids in the class ask questions. But everyone else? They are 15 years old… peer pressure is great and how they are viewed by their peers is of the utmost importance. This kid I’m tutoring is a good looking boy and will be a heart breaker with the ladies when he hits about 17 or 18, but now? He has acne, he’s just starting to shave and he looks like puberty struck a 15 year old. He’s very athletic, so he’s physically comfortable in his skin, but mentally? Not so much…

So I have issues and I’ve told this kid that. I told him, ‘Look, I completely disagree with how this class is being taught and I don’t care that I’ve never taught a class and he’s been teaching 20 years. Preserving one’s dignity is important.’ I also told him, “You need to know that if you don’t understand something, most of the class doesn’t either. If you stand up to answer a question on the board MOST of the class is saying two things, “I so don’t get this, thank God he asked” and “I’m so glad that’s not me.” And after you’re finished, half of that group still won’t get it, but are afraid to ask.”

He seemed to listen to me and he agreed. He told me he doesn’t ask because he doesn’t want to get up in front of the class. And guess what? When one’s confidence is taking a hit in a class, then you DEFINTELY won’t stand up.

So I’ve spent the last month explaining parts of his homework he didn’t get, back tracking through basics missed, explaining why he got it wrong and what to look for, and telling him over and over again, “You are so smart… you just need a little light in the dark spots.”

I decided it was one thing for him to hear his Mom and Dad tell him he was smart, but different for another adult to flat tell him to his face, “You are smart.”

I make sure when he fumbles through something, I let him know I’ve made the same mistakes and it is all practice.

This last test, he got the 2nd highest grade in the class.

I was so happy, I was beside myself. It hasn’t taken any extra effort on his part. He was already doing the homework. He just needed to have someone show him one on one what he was doing wrong, since he wasn’t getting that in class.

And he just needed to believe in himself.

And I was proud of his teacher. When this kid got his test back, his teacher praised him in front of the entire class on how he cannot believe how much his grades are improving and how he’s doing such a great job.

I suspect by the end of the semester, if we keep plugging away, with my just shining a bit of light where needed, he’s going to have not only one of the highest grades in the class, but his classmates will view him as the one who’s got it going on.

And I told his Mom, this is not my doing. This is HIS doing. He’s the one earning the grade, doing the homework. She said *I* put it back on the front burner and got him to believe in himself.

Perhaps. But that’s HIS grade. Not mine. And I can’t wait to tell him when I see him next how damn proud I am of him.

I really am.

Posted by Boudicca at December 6, 2007 09:31 PM | TrackBack

I'm reading this with tears in my eyes. How absolutely wonderful!!! I'm so happy for him!

I know what you mean about teachers and how they teach (especially math - I don't know why so much of it has to be MADE to be so hard *sigh*)

Anyhow, you do deserve quite a lot of credit. For sitting down and helping him. You're the only one who did! There weren't a line of volunteers down the street trying to get to him - it was you.

That you enjoy it, that you can explain it so he understands - that's even better! So, give yourself a pat on the back (big time). I know EXACTLY how his mom feels - like a huge weight has been lifted. It was like that for me when we found such a wonderful woman to tutor my son.

Posted by: Teresa at December 6, 2007 10:27 PM

Oh he really is a bright kid, Teresa. He really really is. I think they just got started on the wrong foot.

You know what I'd love? For him to be so confident that he would boldly walk to that board and work a problem he was having trouble with, not giving a crap what the other kids thought. I'd so love that.

But, he's 15 and I can't give him my 42 year old 'don't screw with me' attitude.

Holy crap, when his Mom sent me the email that he scored what he did, I could not quit smiling. I think I smiled for hours. He's such a GREAT kid.

I think it has helped that we've clicked and that I truly love math. I've become this math cheerleader. He sits back and laughs as I carry on about how wonderful all this math is. I suspect he thinks I may be a lunatic. ;-)

Posted by: Bou at December 6, 2007 10:35 PM

No way does he think you are a lunatic. You are doing great. I think it is wonderful how you can help someone else love math.

Posted by: vw bug at December 7, 2007 06:15 AM

Too bad you didn't live in the Tampa Bay area. I would have you help my 5th grader. She has been tutored in math for the last 2 years and still doesn't understand the basics as much as I or the tutor explain it to her. She isnt a math person though, she likes to write and draw.

Posted by: Cindy at December 7, 2007 06:58 AM

Ditto to Teresa's comments. I don't know this boy, yet I am proud as all get out just reading this. And you, Bou, are a very special person to do this. It takes effort, passion and patience to do this.
And even if he thinks you are a lunatic, at least you are the good kind!

Posted by: jck at December 7, 2007 08:28 AM

You need to make up business cards and have him hand them out to his friends or post a sign at school or something for math tutoring.

You would be awesome as a tutor for many kids.

Posted by: Quality Weenie at December 7, 2007 08:42 AM

And it doesn't hurt that his math tutor is a total babe...

Posted by: P'cola Titan at December 7, 2007 09:05 AM

I love math.

Posted by: Toluca Nole at December 7, 2007 03:20 PM

Having been a technical instructor, I know where his teacher is coming from. The best learning takes place when the student is explaining what he is doing while he is doing it. Unfortunately, this teacher's problem is in his implementation of that principle and putting the student on the spot. I would always ask if there were someone else who could help out. Or, I would give part of the answer and prompt him (or other classmates) to help me out in getting the rest of the answer. Making students afraid to ask questions is definitely not conducive to learning.

Posted by: Denny at December 7, 2007 04:47 PM

.... congratulations for both him AND you....

Posted by: Eric at December 7, 2007 05:42 PM

Love, love, love this post. Thank you for what you are doing for him.

Posted by: Mrs. Who at December 7, 2007 11:49 PM

yay! YAY! YAY!

:doing the excited Happy Teacher Dance with tears in my eyes::

Posted by: holder at December 8, 2007 09:02 AM

VW- Well, considering your kids view me as a lunatic at times, I'm not so sure! Heh. Boy was Tot smoochy the other day!

Cindy- I think some people just are not math oriented, but that doesn't mean that they won't eventually get it. I think so much deals with neurological maturity and not everyone's brain is ready at the same time. That's my big issue with this push for every child to take Algebra in 8th grade. Some are just not ready.

JCK- Yup! the good lunatic! :) I'm so proud of him... He's such a great kid. I'm going to be beside myself if he pulls an A in this class one term.

QW- I think one on one with a kid who wants to learn, I just really enjoy it. It absolutely thrills me.

PT- Oh right. He sees 42 year old Mom friend of his Moms coming over. I'm the old lady!!

TN- I know. Like poking your eyes out with a pencil. :)

Denny- Yes, I can see in an adult class, like when I took training in the corporate world. There was no humiliation there... we were all learning and we were past that point of giving a crap of what our peers thought. And I get the learning by doing. But... geez... with these kids, its not working. He needs a better approach.

Eric- thank you! It certainly made MY day. And it made his Moms. He doesn't quite get why we're making such a big deal about it...

Mrs. Who and Holder- You as teachers get it when you work with a kid and the light goes on. I imagine that in teaching, when everythign else may get old, watching a kid grasp something, never gets old. there is just something about that...

Posted by: Bou at December 8, 2007 12:30 PM

When teaching, watching that light go on with any age group is a real trip! Teaching is fun! I loved it! It's just that I loved being a sysprog even more. There were eight years at IBM when I was doing both jobs (60+ hour weeks and I got paid real well for my work) and I finally had to tell management to decide what they wanted me to do. Fortunately, they picked sysprog which paid more than instructor. I still missed teaching.

Posted by: Denny at December 8, 2007 02:24 PM