As a teacher I am charged with the daunting task of convincing my students that the work we do in class is relevant, important, useful, and sometimes can be fun. I understand completely that not every student is going into a math-related field just as I understand that many of the topics we discuss will never be seen again after they leave my room. The lesson I try to leave them with is that I am not guaranteeing you will use this in your life. I am providing you with the opportunity to use it if you need it. I am providing you with some basic skills and knowledge that opens the door for a future in a math-related field or further math study. Whether you walk through that door is completely up to you.
I am finding it more and more prevalent to hear adults (and sometimes even other teachers from other subject areas) promoting the idea to students that math is in fact useless and they will never need it in their lives. My job of providing context and relevance is completely undermined when this type of thinking is reinforced by every other adult in that student’s life. One of the biggest fallacies I hear is when students or adults take one anecdotal example of a successful person and use it to prove school isn’t important because that person made it without being great in school. So here, on the last day of school, I am providing my own anecdotal examples from successful people. These are not math related but reinforce the lessons I strive to get across in my classroom each day.
“Every kid [every minority kid] can be successful if they focus on their education.”
“I try to hire people I don’t have to motivate.”
Magic talking about his father – “Look, let me tell you something. If you don’t do this job the right way, you are gonna just always go through life doing things halfway. Every job you have, whether you’re playing basketball or what you’re doing in school, you gotta do it the right way. And you gotta make sure you always get the job done.” He just blew me away with that. I’ve been doing things the right way ever since and making sure everything we do here, everything I do as a man or as a husband, I do the right way. And that I complete the job.
“I don’t think you should just do what makes you happy. Do what makes you great. Do what’s uncomfortable and scary and hard but pays off in the long run…Let yourself fail. Fail and pick yourself up and fail again. Without that struggle, what is your success anyway?”
“I think that’s the single best piece of advice: constantly think about how you could be doing things better and questioning yourself.”
You see, my best students or favorite students (I know, we aren’t supposed to have favorites but that’s human nature. Relax.) are not the ones who can ace every test. They are not always the ones that get A’s or turn in all of their homework. The best students are the ones that have an internal motivation to do well and do great things. They are not motivated necessarily by the math itself but by the learning, thinking, and problem solving. The best students are the ones that understand that they attitude and mindset they have for the things they love must also apply to things they don’t love as much because those attitudes only make you successful when they become habit. And habits form when you are constantly practicing them. They trust that an education has the potential to be valuable in the long run and are not as concerned if they cannot see the explicit value of every topic right now. One of the biggest myths of the education reform movement in recent years is that if the application of a topic cannot by explicitly stated and understood NOW then it’s not important. That mindset needs to shift toward one that believes if we put in the time and work necessary to master the foundation then we have the potential to reach those topics that have real meaning for us in the future. Even if we can’t see what that is right now.