[personal profile] matthewdaly
I should start getting used to talking about me, especially since I'm doing some interesting stuff that I'll probably have to be talking about before long.

I've been spending the last handful of weeks as a volunteer math tutor for the Rochester Educational Opportunity Center, helping folk to get their GED and qualify for an LPN license and similar sorts of job training and college prep opportunities. The organization I am working for is a non-profit affiliated with one of our local state universities that does all this training tuition-free for qualified prospective students (and it seems like pretty liberal standards to establish the economic need) and it really seems to do a lot of good in helping people to chart out a better future. For me as well: it's not a paid position and doesn't even count as field work for a Masters in Education (even though the affiliated university is the one at which I'll be studying), but it'll be a leg up to have the experience in both the schmoozing sense and in being actually prepared for a room full of adolescents.

And so far it's been going really well. The staff is thrilled to get all the help they can, and they've been very helpful and welcoming. The students have been very generous with their praise as well, and even though there is selection bias in my hearing primarily from the sorts of student that I am helping, I can also objectively see that they are growing from one class to the next. That has more to do with my students being eager to be taught and willing to invest the time and brainwork than in the role that I'm playing, but again I am a critical catalyst in that reaction and if I don't give myself credit for my part then I can hardly expect people down the road to independently offer me future opportunities.

At the same time, it has been very challenging and I have yet to even comprehend the scope of the challenges. Math anxiety is a significant hurdle, and I don't have any specific strategies for dealing with it. (Nor do I have any personal experience with it at this level no matter how much I know about other sorts of anxiety.) I have also come to appreciate that people who talk about anti-racism math have their thumb on a very real and important problem. Again, I see it when I see it, but I'm still soaking in it and I've got to figure out how to confront that. 95% of my students are women, 90% are people of color, and I'll go ahead and guess that at least 95% of them aren't commuting from my upper middle-class neighborhood. In short, the only thing that comes easily to me in this class is the math.

But those last two paragraphs are both true and coexist in balance. My best isn't good enough, and my students deserve even better than my best. But that doesn't mean that I shouldn't do what I can do. The alternative to me teaching this class isn't Jaime Escalente taking over the class for me; the alternative is no class at all. I need to fail a little bit better every day, because a lot of people are still going to succeed in spite of me because of me.

Date: 2010-11-01 12:05 am (UTC)
kalmn: (here i am!)
From: [personal profile] kalmn
thank you for doing this. in my opinion, what you're doing is actually antiracist work as it stands-- you are using your privilege to help teach people who do not have that privilege, who want to be taught. (inflicting math on people would not be the same thing, but they are asking for math and help with it)

i have no thoughts on math anxiety. the thing that helped me in high school was not doing homework while hungry or tired, but i'm not sure if that's any of the problems you're seeing, or if that's something your program can work on.

re: Stepping up to the plate

Date: 2010-11-01 01:04 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] betonica
I probably don't have any really good thoughts on math anxiety myself, either, not having experienced it (unless you want to count the now very occasional dream about it being one class before finals and I've just remembered the 2nd-year calculus class that I haven't thought of since the beginning of the semester).

But I did teach entry-level math at my college for a year or so, and really had a good time doing it. My theory about math (this goes for everything, really, but is especially true of math) is that there are three or five or fifty or a few million ways of thinking about any given math problem. If you don't happen to have the same mind-set as your teacher (or can't warp your mind to mesh with his/hers for the explanation of whatever concept) you're going to have a very hard time figuring out how to do math. And then you'll either think you're stupid about math, or someone will outright tell you you're stupid about math, and it's all a down-hill crash course from there.

So I tried, with my students, to give them different perspectives on problems. I tried to figure out how they would look at a given problem, by asking them about it. And I didn't hesitate to suggest that they get an explanation from a different math teacher if they needed it. I think I also checked in with the whole class at the beginning of the semester to see who was afraid of math, or thought they weren't any good at it (all of them), and then did my best to reassure them that everyone can do it, given the right tools/perspective/whatever. It's astonishing the number of people who have math phobia. Outrageous, really. And the ones I've talked to say they didn't have it before high school. We must be doing some downright criminal math instruction at that level.

I think it's really cool what you're doing. Go you! And it must be fun, too. I wish I could be teaching math again, but my job has gotten funneled in a different direction (which is fun, too, so that's okay).

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Matthew Daly

December 2012

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