In elementary school, I felt safe. Math was fun, inviting, and I felt comfortable being around my classmates. Connecting problem to answer was enjoyable and the many activities I adored were helping me grow into a good math student, but when it was time for my class to move up to middle school, my outlook on the subject changed. It wasn’t until I entered this new chapter in my life that I realized I stopped liking math.
As the days passed during my first year as a seventh grader, the trials of math class became increasingly difficult, but looking back, I can see that what affected me most were the social challenges inside the walls of my school.
As an impressionable adolescent trying to fit in, I felt embarrassed in math class when I didn’t understand and never felt brave enough to ask for help. I remember feeling disappointed in myself because deep down, I liked math and relished the feeling of accomplishment when an equation totaled up beautifully. Many teens have heightened emotions, and the following definition rings true to the fear many teenage students have in the classroom:
Begin with Embarrassment—a startled response to having one’s individuality or inadequacy unexpectedly made the uncomfortable object of public attention, often humorously for the fun of others, which can result in feelings of social exposure, self-consciousness, isolation, anxiety, humiliation, and even shame (Pichkardt). To read more about social anxiety in teens, follow this link.
It was unfortunate that I let my surroundings shape my confidence in the classroom, but so many teenage girls share this battle.
Fast forward to high school and I ended up in class with a brand new math teacher. She had designer jeans, great hair, and I felt like she was my type of instructor. I continued to struggle with math, but was fortunate to have her to confide in. She took me in and guided me through the course, intercepting my bobbles as I worked through her class.
I really admired my teacher and was feeling great about myself for consistently working on math. I knew I needed to succeed to make her proud. The math concepts that I was learning in class were still confusing from time to time, and I certainly wasn’t acing every test, but I was doing something I had never had the strength to do, which was ask for help.
Then came the moment when things changed. I remember coming to her with another question and the words that followed stay with me to this day. She said, “You know, Tina, some girls just aren’t good at math.”
I was crushed, defeated, and above every emotion that consumed me, I believed her. Looking back with a fresh perspective, it’s very clear to see that the words of my math teacher were more powerful than anything I’d ever heard in the classroom. Was it because she had great taste in shoes or maybe because I felt like we had built a student-teacher bond? It could’ve been both, but that goes without saying there is a definite correlation between female students and female teachers:
A female role model can support and encourage girls to successfully complete their studies and maybe even continue studying to become teachers, themselves. She can also be there to listen to any problems and provide guidance when necessary (Kirk). Click here for more on the impact of female teachers on girls.
Believing I was bad at math affected every other class I participated in and soon after that experience, I felt myself withdrawing from my efforts to succeed. In the final chapter of my K-12 math journey, I decided to seek help from a tutor outside of my school and with her tools, I discovered that I actually had a firm understanding of the concepts I had been learning all along. Her take on teaching was the missing link to finding my stride.
With my tutor, she encouraged me to work on one concept repetitively until I was absolutely ready to move on. Sometimes in math class, I felt that moving quickly onto the next question left uncertainty not knowing how to correctly work through the problem before, and the problem before that. It was a slippery slope! My tutor’s consistency and math tactics were crucial to helping me “get it”. My tutor also introduced problems from a unique angle, explaining problems differently than my school textbook. I could relate to her approach and am still grateful for her ability to teach math from a different perspective.
Looking back, I would’ve done things differently. I spent far too long worrying about math and wish that I would’ve been introduced to different ways of learning when I stepped into middle school. I also wish I would’ve shared my feelings with other girls in my class. Female teachers do have an impact on female students, but the notion that female students impact each other is important to recognize, too. As a student going through the trials and tribulations of school, staying positive with your female classmates is a win-win. Sticking together and leaning on each other is a major contributor to overcoming anxiety in the classroom and more than likely, the student sitting next to you in class is struggling with something, too.
It’s vital for girls to understand that it’s okay to have your own learning style! If you are anything like me, you’ll find that pushing yourself to seek other learning opportunities will play a big part in progressing through school and the good news is that there are so many resources available to help you become your best.
With sharing my experience, it’s my hope to encourage girls to push boundaries to learn, no matter how embarrassed you may feel or hopeless it can seem. Struggling in class is a setback that most every student will face, but there are endless ways to seek help in understanding. Above all, I hope that students, parents, and educators understand that sometimes the key to learning is as simple as tweaking the recipe. We are all wired differently and it only makes sense that we all learn differently, too.
If your child needs a little more direction and support in mathematics, MANGO Math is a series of fun and engaging games that encourages students to build necessary math skills by repetitive play.