Several years ago there was a tv commercial which portrayed a man tethered to a monstrous, rusted-out boat. He was trying to haul it out of the sea and up onto the beach, but the boat looked too heavy. It seemed fated to slide back into the water where it would inevitably sink pulling the man under. He was doomed to drown.
Much of my career has been spent working with struggling (what we used to call 'remedial' or 'modified') math students. I used to tell them that story -- likening their history of awful math experiences to the rusted hulk. What I was there to do, I would say, was show them another possibility: they could cut it loose. They could learn the skills and bob to the surface. They might never like math, but they would no longer have to fear being drowned by it.
The most important thing about my teaching is that it has given me the opportunity to help these kinds of learners free themselves from having to drag their load of past math failures into the future. Schooling shouldn't teach people that they can't do stuff. It should affirm to them, over and over and over, that they can.
A Warm Hello Sue
Regarding the challenges of students learning Math and teachers trying to teach Math I have a personal experience I would like to share with you. Also, it forms the basis of why I want to teach and when I say teach, I feel for me, my style is more of a facilitator of learning.
I am an INFP according to the MBTI personality testing and I come from a lineage of women who are highly intuitive and perceptive. When I was in Grade 9 I found that I could answer complex math problems with a fairly high level of accuracy. However, when asked by the teacher to explain my process and write it on the board, I simply could not. My process felt random and non-linear and I was not able to translate into language how I arrived at the answer. This was my math failure and it affected me in a very big way.
I concluded that I must not be very bright and felt so embarrassed that I eventually dropped out of the academic program and enrolled in the vocational stream of students. Now, I am a bright woman and I love learning, but I could not understand my gift and no one could explain my learning style to me.
I did eventually, go on to college and take those math courses again and I was able to follow a step by step process to arriving at the answer, but I still thought I was not very bright.
Finally, in the first year of my graduate studies I learned through Myers Briggs that intuitive learners often know the answers to math problems without knowing the process for which they arrived at the answer. There it was! I finally understood the WHY of my math challenge and it was related to how I take in information and process it. What a relief!
So, this story forms a part of my TPS as I understand that far to often the learning environment only recognizes the learning styles of a percentage of students. Most of my life has been dedicated to teaching in community based learning programs.
That's the kind of 'defining experience' story more teachers should hear and hear again at different stages of their careers. I was wondering, when I looked at your email address, what might be behind it. Thanks for sharing.
PS For others who might read Patti's story, this kind of anecdote can be a great addition to a TSP. Showing how you 'draw on personal experience to ensure all students' needs are met' is much more powerful than telling them that's what you do. The follow-up might be to share examples of how this has played out in your teaching and the insights you've gained as a result.