by: MSTA President Stacy Blakley
Embracing our flaws is never easy. I fully realize I cannot do all things well. I love teaching most any content area with the exception of one - I do not love teaching math. I do not speak the language of math. To be clear, I can DO math (within reason), but I am aware that I do not explain it well. Math is at the bottom of my “favorite topics” list.
At the end of last school year, one of my worst fears came true. I was told I would need to teach a sixth grade math class this school year. Anxiety started brewing. As the new school year drew near, I checked my class schedule and realized that I would be teaching not one math class, but TWO. At that point, my anxiety grew into a huge monster.
How could I possibly do this? I played out every horrible scenario in my head. I felt so vulnerable and inept. My fear of teaching math completely overwhelmed my confidence in the other areas of teaching where I really excel. I took a deep breath and started looking for solutions. I utilized my greatest math resource, my husband Steve who has been teaching math for over 20 years.
He pointed me to some great, free math tutorials. I used them to brush up on some concepts and am now able to explain those concepts in my classroom. I also have a really great teaching partner for math who provides me with a lot of support. I am definitely not in this alone.
When school started and I stood in front of those bright young scholars for the very first time I felt all their excitement - it was palpable. Not only was this a new school year, this was a whole new building for them! I introduced myself and told them all about my husband, our children, my hobbies and our pets. I shared my classroom expectations and introduced the new math curriculum we would be using. Then I sat down with them and got real.
I did what, for some, is unthinkable. I got vulnerable with those kids. I told them I am not a lover of math. I don’t have confidence in math. I shared with them that I often second guess my answers and think my answers are wrong, even when they are right. I was so nervous and, honestly, I cried. I explained to them my goal for our class is that our confidence in math would grow this year.
Do you have any idea what those kids did? They breathed a sigh of relief! They got up out of their chairs to give their new, crying teacher hugs. They told me they are nervous about math too. Something clicked for me at that moment. All the preparation that I did over the summer to learn to teach math better would never help me love the content. However, I DO love teaching and I DO want to teach these students who shared this moment with me.
If you were to peek into my math classes today you would see kids working together to solve problems. You might see kids teaching other kids how to do math. You would certainly hear what we call “math talk.” You would probably see me make some funny faces when I try to figure out some random math problem, and maybe even do the happy dance if I get the answer right!
A mentor of mine often tells me to “lean in” when times get hard or situations are uncomfortable. This is so challenging to do! It is often difficult to admit to those we are leading or teaching that we do not know everything. Vulnerability is hard AND so worth it. The simple, hard conversation we had at the beginning of school created an environment where we could all be real with each other. We are free to make mistakes and experience true growth.
When you face uncertain situations in your professional or personal life, I encourage you to lean in. Own your weaknesses as well as your strengths. Be vulnerable and willing to grow.