Over the weekend I was talking with a family member who is an educator. She was telling me that she never had a single “good” math teacher. It reminded me of my classroom observations in seventh grade algebra. Last week, at the end of class, two girls walked up to the teacher and actually said, and I quote, “You’re really bad at explaining things.” It was heartbreaking to see his reaction but the truth is that these students were not wrong. This particular math teacher struggles to find different ways to teach concepts and the students are the ones suffering because of it. I believe that many math teachers (and professors…) have a hard time teaching more than one strategy or method because their method is the one they understand best, so it’s my way or the highway. This forces students to have to try and climb inside that teacher’s mind to see how he/she is thinking. It is the teacher’s responsibility to reach the students with a variety of methods for solving a problem. If math teachers can’t figure out how to do this, then the cycle of kids who hate math growing into adults who hate math will never be broken.
Perhaps teachers teach the methods they learned when they were younger because it’s what they understand best, and you can’t teach what you don’t know. Perhaps they’re simply unaware of the other strategies out there. Or perhaps they realize that learning new strategies will take a lot of time and effort. It’s not easy to completely change the way your brain thinks. In third grade, I learned the alternative algorithm for multiplication called “lattice.” (It’s the goofy looking one that requires drawing boxes.) As I got older, I realized that everyone else has a very different way to do multiplication. I decided to teach myself this traditional algorithm with the help of Khan Academy and YouTube and let me tell you, it was not an easy task! After using the lattice method for years, I had to really focus to grasp another strategy.
So will it be hard work? Yes. But what part of teaching isn’t hard work? The reason we’re putting ourselves through this is for the good of the kids and I guarantee your class will appreciate it if you teach them more than just one way to solve a problem. Kids will be way more successful if they can choose a method that makes the most sense to them rather than you teaching them one method. I truly believe that if more educators can focus on teaching different strategies in different ways, then soon there will be less and less kids (and adults) saying “I hate math,” which breaks my heart to hear.