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Students who make us better teachers...

Students who make us better teachers...
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Some of the students who made me a better teacher...

(A) In a Junior Algebra class, one of my students never brought his math book nor paper or pencil. He just watched the lecture and he got A’s on every single test to the point where I made two different tests for each row because I could not figure out how he could do so well without any preparation besides sitting there and listening to my lectures. I would hold my breath every time he raised his hand to ask a question which was only a few times during the whole school year. His questions were so insightful and unusual. How could he be so good without taking notes and practicing problems from the book, but he was.

In those days it was my policy to make 50% of their grade their homework. I did it to help the kids with anxiety during tests but it hurt this particular student’s grade. Trying to maintain my policy, I told him I was going to have to give him an F for homework which averaged with his “A” test grades would be a “C” on his report card. His response was, “Whatever…”. Well, it obviously bothered me more than it bothered him. Out of a 150 students per day, this student was on my mind and I had to fix this. By semester grading, I just had to give him the A he deserved. The lesson I learned was what works for some does not work for all and I need to be flexible and understand different students' learning styles and give them credit where credit is due.

(B) Then, during my tutoring years, there were the two sisters… Such different learning styles. One was the smart one who refused to do homework and the other was the diligent one who slaved over every problem and every line of every problem in her homework in preparation for tests. And who scored better? Yep, the smart one who somehow understood the Junior Algebra intuitively, innately and easily absorbed those topics. Her sister, on the other hand, sweat over every assignment and every test followed by a mega sweat for the SATs. Who ends up being the better achiever in life? And who has the happier life? Who’s to say? And what did I learn as a teacher? It's important to be flexible and understand how a student learns - here were two girls with the same parents living in the same environment having the same opportunities and such very different learners.

(C) The junior girls seem to be under the most stress and for that reason I always had a box of Kleenex sitting on the desk. They had a lot going on. The boys did too, but for some reason they didn’t take it as seriously or they just felt more confident or hid their anxiety. Junior year is a hard year - there are a lot of expectations at that point - expectations for writing college applications - expectations to do well on the SAT and the ACT - expectations to write a beautiful junior theme for their entire English class grade. And then, who knows how much stress was going on at home. It seemed, in my experience, it was mostly those that were struggling to get into college. And what about college? That is a big topic, being discussed lately, about whether it is worth the time, money, and anxiety. In any case, I learned that some empathy goes a long way to calming down Junior year anxieties.

One of my 11th grade students was a girl who could not score over 20 on the ACT, yet she was an “A” student in her math classes. Both she and her parents really wanted her to do better and they asked me to help. I sat with her for less than an hour when it occurred to me that she wasn’t using a #2 pencil which is how the ACT was being scored. In this situation, her lack of a good score had nothing to do with her math ability. I simply told her she needed to only use a #2 pencil and sent her back in to the ACT with some encouragement. She ended up getting a 27 with the proper pencil!

Another similar case was a ninth-grade freshman who understood all the math but kept getting very low grades on his tests. I sat with him for less than 20 minutes, immediately realizing that his hand writing was so sloppy he could not read his own writing when performing algebraic operations. He could not decipher a "1" from a "7" or a "9" from a "7" and his "8" was impossible to read so instead of teaching him algebra which he already knew, I gave him hand writing lessons and sent him back into the classroom where he ended up receiving an “A” in the class for the semester.

(D) After leaving the high school math classroom, I began tutoring and that is where I came across a lot of different learning styles that as a classroom teacher I had not recognized because I was teaching an entire group. With tutoring I could witness the different learning styles on a micro level. As I developed these software programs, I would use my newly programmed software with my students during our tutoring sessions and they would make suggestions. For instance, suggesting that I insert additional steps in the algebraic process to make it more understandable - sometimes they would suggest that I put a “hint” here and there to coach them through the steps of a problem to the final solution.

In conclusion, there is so much we can learn from our students, to make us better teachers!

Opinions and Analysis by: Illana Herzig Weintraub

Publisher: MathMedia Educational Software, Inc.



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