rhea brown

I am probably not a typical math teacher. As a kid, I hated math 95% of the time. I still remember the first time I felt stupid. It was in second grade math class. I'd been pulled into a small group to work on memorizing my times tables, and I was confused. And slow. And angry. Why did I need to memorize this? Why did I have to come up with the right answer in 2 seconds or less? Why was it a competition? I kept feeling this way, during every math test, every time the math teacher cold called me, on the math section of the ACT... I was
not a math person. When I got to college, as a self-identified non-math person, I tried to fulfill my math requirements in the least-math-y way possible. I took astronomy. And I became a math person. The thing about math is that it's not about memorizing. It's not about how fast you can do a problem in your head. It's about having tools to understand the world around us. I didn't realize this until I decided to become an astrophysicist. The other thing about math is that it's very, very easy for it to become about memorizing and facts and learning equations out of context and feeling stupid. I realized this once I decided to not become an astrophysicist. I switched my major because my physics professor, after I'd spent half a semester in her office asking for help on my problem sets, told me I needed to try harder. Turns out what I actually needed was a different way of looking at math. And this is true for many, many, many of us who think that we are just not math people. We are all math people. As I prepare to teach math, I know exactly what I don't want my classes to be like. I don't want students feeling stupid because memorization doesn't come easily to them. I don't want them feeling discouraged because math feels like a series of disconnected concepts to be memorized and applied out of context. I don't want them thinking that math is just about tests and times tables. I want them to have the confidence to solve problems and understand information that interests them. I want them to authentically engage with numbers in ways that are empowering, not defeating. I want them to see the beauty, relevance, and importance of math in our daily lives. Most of all, I don't want them to grow up believing that they aren't math people. When we know better, we do better. Math for my students will be different.
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