Talking about math

During my years of teaching and tutoring, I’ve noticed that the way that parents and students talk about math can have lasting impact on a student’s confidence and mindset.

Imagine talking to a friend:

“Oh! Let me tell you about this great book I just finished! It’s about …”

“Ugh. Really? I hated reading in school. I was so proud that I managed to get through college without ever having to take another English class. You really *enjoy* reading?”

“Um… oh. OK.”

Bizarre, right? We all know a few people who would rather do anything than pick up a book, but most of them read *something* from time to time, whether newspapers, magazines, or comic books (excuse me, graphic novels). I’d be surprised if you know people who proudly flaunt aliteracy. Even people who don’t particularly enjoy reading try to make time to read to (and with) their children if they have them.

Math, however, seems to be a totally different ball of wax.

People flaunt innumeracy. They are proud their dislike of math, and have no qualms about telling math teachers they they weren’t ‘good at math’ in school. In parent conferences I’ve had parents tell me “I’m not surprised my child is struggling in math class, I was terrible at math in school so I don’t expect my child will succeed either.”

Eek! If you need to get your math phobia off your chest, please make sure only other adults can hear you! A child who knows you have low expectations for them is not a child who will be motivated to try. A child who knows your phobia is more likely to pick it up from you.

If math was a struggle for you, use that to your child’s advantage!

The best studying technique I’ve found is for a student to teach someone the topic that they are trying to learn. Trying to understand factoring? Explain it to someone (even if that someone is a stuffed animal). The process of finding a way to explain a concept cements understanding. Be your child’s willing learner; they’ll get a better grasp of the concepts they are studying, and you will learn that it’s never to late to gain math confidence!

Please, please: Don’t flaunt your old academic failures for your children. If you struggled, admit that you struggled, but that you’re excited for your child to help you make sense of what you missed all those years ago.

Comments 2

  • Fascinating! People flaunt their innumeracy here too and it certainly isn’t cool to say you love Math. However, since being a Math teacher for the last eight years if someone tells me they have read a great book, I proudly tell them I have been working through a challenging Math problem to help my students – you should see their faces. We will change the world’s perception of Math one student and their parents at a time and show them the awe and wonder of Math. Tutor in London.

    • That’s a neat idea! When someone mentions a good book I’m usually too busy finding out about the book to throw a math endorsement in, but I LOVE the idea. I think I’ll brainstorm a mathy response so I’ll have one handy the next time this comes up!

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