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I've been teaching high school math for over 20 years. I write about my experiences here and also share activities that I have done with my classes that have been successful (and some that have been not so successful).
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What NOT to say to a Math Teacher




I have been a math teacher for more than two decades and any time I tell someone what I do for a living, there's always a reaction. I have heard it all. 

The two most common reactions I get are:


or


In regards to the first comment, yes, I am smart. But so are you. Everyone has their gifts and talents. I can't sing or play the piano and I am a slow runner, but I know other people who are excellent singers, piano players or runners.

But when people tell me they were never good at math I always look at my watch to see if I have time to get on my soapbox.

My soapbox

I like to tell people to not ever say the phrase, "I was never good at math." especially to children. Saying that phrase gives them permission to use it as an excuse. 

I cannot tell you how many times I have had a parent-teacher conference where the parent excuses their child's lack of success in my class with, "It's okay. I am not a math person either" or "He/she inherited my lack of math abilities." That is not okay. There is no such thing as a math person or a non-math person. When a baby is born, the parents are not told, "Congratulations! Your baby is a math person!"

It's all about mindset.

Everyone is capable of learning math. Yes, some people understand math faster than others - but even the best mathematicians do math slowly because they're thinking deeply. 

If you had a bad experience learning math in your youth, you could change your narrative to, "I could have been successful at math if I had the right support, encouragement, opportunity, and/or desire."

Think about it, if you had done nothing in high school but study math for 3 hours a day - with a teacher or tutor, You would get pretty good at it after a while.  But unfortunately, most high school students have other subjects to take and other outside commitments. 

I think there are a few reasons why some students are not successful at math:
•they tell themselves they are not good at it
•they have other subjects that they enjoy and or get higher grades in and so spend more time on them
they don't have support (from family members, from teachers)
•they are involved in too many other things (extracurriculars, after school jobs, caring for family members) and don't have the time to dedicate to their studies
•they have ineffective teachers

I am a teacher and I am supportive of teachers, but sometimes even teachers reinforce the fixed mindset of "math people" or "non-math people." I used to be one of them.

If you have students that have this fixed mindset, try to encourage them to change their mindset. Remind them that everyone is capable and there is no such thing as a math person. 

If you teach students that have been labeled as "honors" or "gifted," they also might have a fixed mindset of, "I am a math person." This is also dangerous because if they get to a place where suddenly they are not understanding math as easily as they used to, then they could lose confidence in their abilities and shut down altogether.

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, I will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and finalize a purchase.

For more information about mindsets, I HIGHLY encourage you to read Jo Boaler's book: Mathematical Mindsets. It was a game-changer for me. She also has a website with some excellent resources: youcubed.org.




What is something that people always say to you when you tell them you're a math teacher? Let me know over in my Facebook group.