Thursday, August 4, 2016

How I Decided to Become a Math Teacher [#MTBoSBlaugust]

It's #MTBoSBlaugust 2016!  I'm challenging myself to blog daily throughout August, and you can too.  Join the fun!

If you read my Day 2 post (20 facts about me), you may have noticed that I started here:
1.  In 2nd grade, we had a teacher that gave every student an award at the end of the year.  She developed different categories for different talents and strengths.  I received the "Math Whiz" award.

And then ended here:
20.  I hated math until my senior year of high school when I took Calculus.

I didn't do that on purpose, but it prompted today's post.  In 10 years, I went from enjoying math to hating it, and then loving it.

I don't remember having a favorite subject in elementary school.  I was usually pretty good at everything.  I know for a time I really liked science.  I do remember that when I couldn't fall asleep, I would think about number patterns.  Is that weird?

When I started seventh grade, I was put into accelerated math, English, and science.  In accelerated math and science, the 7th and 8th grade curricula are combined into one year.  So when I was in 8th grade, we were learning 9th grade math (then called Math A semesters 1 and 2) and Earth Science.  Also in 8th grade, when we started foreign languages, I was put into accelerated Spanish.

Eighth grade is where I started to hate math.  I don't remember specifics about the content.  I remember that I did not like the teacher, and she did not like me.  That year, in addition to learning the 9th grade material, we also had to take the 8th grade state test.  So in the middle of the year, we stopped learning new content to review the previous year's content.  We were so used to doing more complex things, that we forgot all of the basic things from the year before.  This aggravated our teacher, and she told us (the accelerated class) that we were all dumb.  She even brought in Dum-Dum lollipops for us.  When I asked if I could have 2 because I was the dumbest of all, she obliged and perpetuated what I was learning about myself and math - that I was bad at math and that I was stupid.  I also remember that year she gave our entire class detention because we were unable to complete the previous night's homework - not because we were lazy or didn't want to do it - because we did not understand.  (As a student that had to take the bus home each day, and could not stay after school because my parents did not have the means to pick me up, this caused a lot of undue stress.)  We never did serve the detention.  She came in the next day and apologized.  We later learned that she had been going through a divorce at that time, and had a tough year when she was teaching us.

In high school it got better, but I was still under the impression that I was bad at math.  I did not like it, but I was doing okay (As and Bs, and the occasional C).  I continued on in the accelerated program, and at the end of 10th grade I had completed the three required credits in Math, Science, and Spanish.  I was ready to drop them all, have some study halls, and take some electives.  My guidance counselor refused to let me drop all three.  She gave me the choice to drop one.  At that point, I hated Spanish more than any other class, so I dropped Spanish and continued with math and science.  In eleventh grade I took Physics, and Pre-Calculus.  I actually loved Physics.  It is my favorite of all the high school science courses I took.  After, Physics though my choices were take AP science courses.  I decided to drop science because I was having a bad experience in AP US History, and I stayed in math for my senior year.

This is where it gets good.  I took Calculus.  There were two sections available.  There was high school Calculus and College Calculus.  One of my electives was only offered the same period as College Calculus, so I was put into high school Calculus.  I think this played a role in developing my confidence because I was not lumped in with all the same super-smart people that I usually had classes with.  We had a smaller class (and we were all friends), and we had so much fun in that class.  The teacher we had that year was my all-time favorite math teacher.  I really flourished in this class.  Things just clicked.  I definitely like to get the procedures down, and then let the understanding catch up to me later, and this is how the teacher would teach us when we requested.  (He would start to explain, we would get lost, we'd ask for the procedure, we'd learn the procedure, then we were able to go back and understand.)  I was the class task-master, always shouting out "Let's do this" and pointing to the board every time my friends tried to get the class off task.  Now my math teacher referred to me as the class super star instead of the "dumbest one of all".  That year I completed Calculus with the highest grade.  In my high school, we always had an award ceremony at a local banquet hall at the end of the year.  I went every year for maintaining high honor roll for the school year.  My senior year, in addition to high honor roll, I received the Calculus award.

Throughout high school, I could never decide what I wanted to do with my life.  My smart-ass answer every time someone would ask me was, "Well, I know I don't want to wake up at 40 and realize that I've wasted my life pursuing a career that I hate because I was forced to make a decision at 17."  For all four years of high school, I was part of our Naval Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (NJROTC) unit.  NJROTC had a huge impact on me, and I knew that my future career needed to include a leadership aspect.

Toward the end of my senior year, I decided that I wanted to teach math.  I thought if I could make it through four years of hating math, and then learn to love it, I would have something to offer students that hated math too.  I think this year I will tell my story toward the beginning of the year, and incorporate how I am an example of how having a growth mindset can be beneficial.


  1. What an awesome story! This post would also be a good example for your students to read if you choose have them do a math auto-biography. Thank you for being vulnerable and sharing this story with us!


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