5 Blind Boys of Alabama

As a math teacher, I see a wide range of people, with a wide variety of mathematical and linguistic skills. At the community college, I see the whole gamut of people with their educational handicaps, their strengths and weaknesses. At the end of a term, I am used to all their peculiar quirks and have had 3 months to work on the rough spots and I like to think that they have somewhat learned to work with the problems and I often see improvement. This truly glorious fact, the great reward of teaching is what makes the beginning of the next term such a shock. I find people that can’t multiply, have no idea how to add and subtract fractions, don’t know how to do long division, can’t write English outside of the absolutely stupid “text-speak” that pollutes our linguistic world today and find myself frustrated and tense. Most of the time, I feel that I’m extremely bad at math, even though I have 1.5 master’s degrees in the subject and teach it. My situation, however, is not dire. There’s are. I do my best to make it better and I like to think that I make a difference in someone’s life, even though the shock of reality bites me in the ass more often than I like.

Ramble on…

About Pete Larson

Researcher at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. Lecturer in the University of Michigan School of Public Health and at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I do epidemiology, public health, GIS, health disparities and environmental justice. I also do music and weird stuff.

2 responses to “5 Blind Boys of Alabama”

  1. teacherpatti says :

    I’m a special ed teacher and, because we have full inclusion now, I am called upon to “push in” to math classes w/ my students to give them extra support (come to think of it, of a 9 period day, 1 period for lunch, 1 period for prep, I am in math for 4 periods). Let’s just say I am a touch more “user friendly” than the actual math teacher, so the other kids in the class come to me for help, too. (Also, I should add, I will actually get off my ass and walk to a student in need, rather than sitting behind me desk playing on the computer) It is amazing to see 8th graders who can’t add and who are terrified of long division. I do the “Dad, Mom, Brother, Sister” method with them and it works for a surprising number of them. You are getting the students that I am seeing now…many of them go home and get no help from the parents, either because the parents don’t know the math or just plain aren’t around. As I tell them, math is something you ONLY get by practicing and you HAVE to know your times tables.
    I ran out this summer and got “highly qualified” in math (i.e. took two classes, on line, from WCC) because I imagine that I will be “pushing in” to math classes for most of my teaching life.

  2. Pete Larson says :

    It’s a disaster and it goes all the way down to kids’ first exposures to math. Parents hate it, tell their kids they don’t need it, and top that off with teachers who can’t even add and subtract fractions and it’s no surprise that the US is in the economic mess it’s in.

    If people really understood how to calculate their home loans, they might not have been prey to unscrupulous lenders.

    American society is anti-intellectual, distrustful of knowledge and largely, while clamoring for “good” schools, unaware as to how the educational process works.

    It’s like fighting an uphill battle in the community colleges. Some really try, others have no clue and don’t see the merit, yet wonder why they can’t get jobs.

    Sorry, that was a hand flailing rant.

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