Growing up, I hated math - with a passion. Reading, writing, history and science all came very easily to me - and it all made sense - but math was a foreign language. Until fourth grade my near photographic memory helped get me through - in third grade I didn't actually learn my multiplication facts, I just memorized the answers to the quizzes I was helping my teacher grade. I would check one 4-times quiz, and then could pass it. My teacher must have thought I had been studying very hard the day that I passed five quizzes in a row - unfortunately, I only memorized what order the answers were in and not with which facts they matched. Oops. It actually took until I was student teaching for me to learn my math facts to the point that I expect my students to know them.
In fourth and fifth grade I started to struggle. Memorization of quiz answers and counting on fingers isn't quite enough to get you through - and I had a hard time. I do remember the day I passed a quiz the rest of the class (minus five of the 'smart math kids') failed, and how exuberant I was. I thought I might actually be getting it! I was wrong. Two days later and I was lost again.
This continued on for the next few years until I reached 7th grade. And unlike most stories like this, it wasn't an inspiring teacher who changed my view of math, or suddenly helped me 'get it' - it was my father. That year I had somehow gotten placed in an advanced pre-algebra class, skipping math 7. After the first six weeks my teacher called my parents in for a conference and told them I wasn't ready, and I needed to drop back to the regular math 7 class.
My parents asked to be given a chance to work with me at home, and thus started the nightly crying episodes at our dining room table. I stuck with it because I was hardheaded and no teacher was going to tell me I couldn't do something. I don't know how my dad stuck with it. I'm a cryer by nature - I cry not only when I'm sad, but when I'm tired, frustrated, angry, confused, stressed out, irritated, or so on. (I don't cry when I'm happy though.) Those nightly sessions caused such headaches for both of us, with me repeatedly crying that I didn't get it, and my dad yelling about how I needed to be neater and bring home my book. Eventually, I would cry myself out - my dad would calm down, and he would help me 'get it.' Seventh grade is the year when math stopped being such a struggle for me - I went on to pass with an A/B average, go to Algebra and all the way up through Calculus. I still didn't love math though.
Loving math came when I started to teach it - suddenly I realized why God didn't make math so easy for me. It was so I could teach it - and teach it well. I loved reading and writing growing up - it came so easily to me - but when I started trying to teach it, I found I had a very difficult time breaking it down into smaller parts. I couldn't understand why a student couldn't figure out what the main conflict in a story was, or who the protagonist was. I found myself thinking, "I don't know how else to explain this to you..." Math was different - I knew why they didn't get it, I understood that feeling and could relate. In my own struggles with math I had found multiple ways to break down a problem and different strategies to use for problem solving, and I could explain this to my students.
I am entering my fifth year of teaching - the first two were spent teaching fifth grade math and science in VA, the third was a self contained fifth grade class (all subject areas) at the same school in VA, and then last summer I moved to Japan with my hubby and taught 8th grade math/pre-algebra and a remedial math class. This year I am moving down to 7th grade - and I am so excited. I've started this blog to share ideas with other teachers and to put some of my ideas out there as I continue to grow as an educator.