Confessions of a recovering mathaphobe…


You know what is humbling?  I’ll tell you what is humbling…learning Algebra at the age of 65.  That’s what is humbling.  I mean, seriously?

From the third grade on, when I had to memorize my multiplication tables, math was the “monkey on my back.”  I never did my math homework without tears.  I never took a math class in high school, college, and grad school without crying.   I made most of the major decisions of my early educational path based on my fear of mathematics.  I got one of those “General” high school diplomas because I didn’t have to take advanced Maths.  I majored in Elementary Education so I wouldn’t have to take advanced Maths.

When I began teaching fifth and sixth grades, I would have to do the lessons myself the night before, with the help of my not-so-understanding husband.  Later, my second husband patiently did the same thing for me, and helped me understand.

So here I am, at age 65, learning Algebra.  What’s that about?  It is about tutoring.  I am a duel National Board Certified Teacher.  I have credentials.  So, when a parent in my church asked if I would tutor his child, I said, “Of course.”  Then he added, “In Math.”  Gulp.  Well, it has just snowballed, and now I tutor three middle school kids in their very challenging mathematics…challenging for me, challenging for them.

The road to my recovery has been slow, a deadly crawl, so to speak, with minuscule baby steps.  That’s how slow.   The beginning was in the 1980s when I took a class for primary teachers called Math Their Way.  It focused on using manipulatives to teach for understanding.  These techniques are now commonplace, and young teachers would be amazed to think there had ever been any other way.

At the end of my teaching career, from 2005 to 2009, I came full circle, and I was asked to teach 4th and 5th grade math.  I crossed the country to go to “summer school” at my brother’s office at Wake Forest University, so as to learn enough to teach that year.  Frankly, I was on the phone with him a lot, at first.  I turned out to be a pretty good math teacher.  One hundred percent of my kids achieved their end-of-the-year goals.  Ironically, I was nominated for the Presidential Award for Teaching Excellence in Math and Science.  Yikes!

I am a pretty good tutor, too.  I know enough not to confuse my charges and enough to ask the probing questions, to get them to think, remember, and apply.  I have to study every day in order to work with each child, and I pray for the miracle of mathematical understanding.

That’s God’s sense of humor for you.  I am spending my retirement doing the exact thing I avoided so conscientiously most of my life!  I haven’t really seen how I actually use Algebra in my everyday life yet, but if nothing else, I am gaining confidence and exercising my brain to hopefully stave off dementia.  Excuse me now.  I have to go figure out how to simplify some expressions.  Hoo –boy.


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