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I have had exactly one math tutoring session in my life, and I remember it in vivid detail. Sitting across the table from my tutor, I could feel the heat rising in my face as I struggled to answer one of the questions that he was posing. A million thoughts began to crowd my head: “I’m sure he has the answer in his head by now”…“He knows I’m here for help, so why is he letting me sit here for so long”…“I wonder if his other students can answer this”…“Why can’t I just figure out the operations I need to do to get the answer”. By this point, the storm of thoughts had made it virtually impossible to focus on the question at hand. As this whole saga was unfolding in my mind, my tutor stared at me from across the table, stone faced. I wasn’t used to being lost in math, actually quite the opposite. A year prior, I had made the decision to enroll in a pilot class that combined Algebra II and Pre-Calculus into one year. We sped through some of the curriculum, and I was left with holes that were beginning to show through in my Calculus class. These days, my mom and I laugh about that day all the time, reminiscing about the fact that I showed up at the car red as a beet, an unfortunate side effect of being in the hot seat. In the moment, however, I vowed that I would never go to another tutoring session again, even if that meant putting in ten extra hours to learn each concept on my own.
It is with this story in mind that I show up to Mathnasium every day. I have been working there since mid-July, doing both administrative tasks and a lot of teaching. While I tutor math that ranges from kindergarten all the way through Calculus, there is one common thread that runs through all my sessions: I never want the student to feel like they can’t tackle the concept at hand. This often means coming up with an alternate explanation when my first approach doesn’t work. Whether that means drawing a picture, using physical objects, graphing in Desmos, or showing a diagram off the internet, I strive to teach in a way that works for the student, using approaches that make them comfortable.
I know from experience how frustrating it is to be lost, squirming in your seat when faced with an explanation that seems like code. I can imagine how that feeling could spiral into indifference for kids who experience it every day in class. I also know that many people write themselves off as bad at math when that’s not really true. The real issue is that they’ve never understood the concept in a way that clicked. It is incredibly rewarding for me to watch the transformation when my students realize that they don’t have to view themselves as inherently bad at math.