Potpourri – Student Success Story (Thursday 11/19/09)

November 19, 2009 at 9:59 pm Leave a comment

About 10 years ago, I switched to teaching mostly developmental mathematics classes. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the material in Calculus (my family tree does contain Newton, after all), I found that teaching developmental mathematics can be more personally fulfilling. Here’s a story to illustrate this.

On the first day of each class, I collect a survey from my students. It contains the standard information (name, email address, math background, …). I also give the students a space to share any information that they feel I should know. One student, who I will call Laura, wrote down that math was her worst subject and would like to talk to me about it during office hours.

When Laura came to my office I asked her when her problems with math began. (It’s funny, but in my experience students can answer this question in about 0.3 seconds. We always seem to know the cause of our troubles, even if we don’t know how to fix them.) Laura told me that she remembered a time in the third grade – that’s right, the third grade –  when her teacher held up her math paper and told the class “Take a good look at this paper. This is a bad paper. Don’t do it this way.” Naturally, Laura was crushed. It was so bad that she still hadn’t recovered over 10 years later.

I asked her how she did in the rest of her classes, and she told me that she was a great student except in math. I told her that I had a deal for her. If she would put aside her negative math feelings and give her fullest effort, I would work as hard as I could to help her. I felt that if she could experience one success, she could lose all of that old baggage and move on. I promised her that if she passed the first test, I would hold her test up in front of the class and tell them “This is a good test! This is how you do it! Well done!”

So, we worked really hard, and Laura passed the first test. I held up my end of the bargain, held up her test, and said my piece. As I glanced over at Laura, I saw her eyes starting to well up. My eyes started as well. That’s why I love teaching developmental mathematics.

Laura went on to pass elementary and intermediate algebra, eventually transferred, and got a bachelor’s degree.

“Laura” – If you are reading this, thank you.

I am a math instructor at College of the Sequoias in Visalia, CA. If there are topics you’d like me to address in future Potpourri articles, send in your requests through the contact page on my web site. Be sure to check out next Thursday’s article.  – George

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General Teaching – Solution Manual Assignments (Wednesday 11/18/09) MyMathLab – Homework Grades (Monday 11/23/09)

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