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When The School System Doesn’t Give You All You Need

Posted in Guides

Thanks for this wonderful post, Jennifer Conant. She’s a passionate mathematician.

Read her article below:

Hi, my name is Jennifer Conant. I’m a junior currently attending the University of Redlands pursuing a major in Physics and minor in Math. Go Bulldogs! That’s Right – I Love Math! That’s why I started doing a website about it. As an early math student, I survived the public school system in San Diego County. I’d like to share with you a little bit about myself, and my struggles, and how I ultimately managed to succeed in the public school system.

I was the girl that was used by the teacher and placed strategically in the classroom to help those around me that struggled with a lesson or an exercise. The teacher knew that I “got it” and that I was friendly and helpful to the other students. You see it happened all the time that students had been placed in a completely wrong math class without the necessary pre-requisites or foundational understanding to keep up with the class.

So in the interest of making sure I got the material mastered in the class I took it upon myself to help them so the teacher could continue teaching the rest of the class and stay on pace. I had an interest in their success as well as my own.

I’ve had teachers from all different kinds of backgrounds. I’ve had ones that insist math is fun and it can be taught with silly little games and stories. Then there’s the ones that run their classrooms like mini boot camps. The one thing that seems pretty consistent through the various types of teaching styles is that almost all of the teachers attempt to make themselves available to the students outside of regular class time.

classroom-1

Now, I’ll admit it’s never fun to sit through an entire class lecture and not know what’s going on. It’s even harder to wait after class and tell your teacher you’re struggling. They always made me feel like it was my fault for needing help. It Wasn’t My Fault – I Just Needed Some Help! When I started to take some of the harder math classes in high school, I dreaded having these conversations with my teachers.

I always felt like I was being a burden to them. As soon as I made it clear I was having trouble, I was asked if I was doing my homework? I was. Was I going over corrections from class? I was. Was I networking with other students? Always. They said, “Maybe you need to listen better in class.” That wasn’t it either. For some reason, it was always a negative reflection on my study habits when I asked for help. It wasn’t ever the teaching or the material.

That’s not a very comfortable situation for learning. Just Telling Me Same Thing Again! Didn’t Help Me Understand. Even after the need for additional help was established, and I met with my teacher one on one, sometimes they wouldn’t say anything different than I had heard in class. Well, that never helped me.

I could hear what they were saying the entire time I was in class, but that didn’t mean I understood it the second time around just because it was one on one. I needed someone that knew the material and would present it to me differently. I needed someone that would listen to my thinking process and work with me to find the point of confusion and correct it so I could master the material and continue to do so without being left  behind.

My senior year of high school was by far the hardest year in math. I was enrolled in AP Calculus with a teacher that had an attendance policy that had no mercy with medical absences. I got sick with a bad case of mononucleosis immediately following our winter break. No I wasn’t kissing anybody. Anyway, I missed the first few weeks back to school. I had my school work brought to me from a friend in the class, but I missed the daily lectures.

All I had was the textbook. I tried my hardest to keep up and teach myself, but as you can probably imagine, calculus isn’t the easiest thing to teach yourself. After returning back from those absences, I had a bizarre case of recurring pink eye throughout the spring.

I later found out that two other students that shared my desk had it too. I wiped the whole thing down with isopropyl alcohol and magically no more pink eye! Naturally, you can not attend a public school with pink eye because of how contagious it is. My teacher had had enough of my medical excuses and didn’t care. My grade was in jeopardy.

What I Needed Was Another Source To Learn The Material

teacherhelp3I immediately started to seek other outside resources. My mom and I bought AP Calculus study guides, I contacted my older math friends, and I talked to other math teachers. Ironically, I was concurrently enrolled in AP Physics and was getting assignments delivered to me since I was at home sick. But in physics, my teacher was sending me additional handouts, lecture notes, supplements to my textbook, and questions that were asked in class with responses. Of course, having a top notch scientific or graphing calculator is a plus! (Thanks to calcustar by the way for their wonderful review of Texas Instruments TI-84 Plus CE!)

This was more than enough to keep me on track. With multiple teaching sources covering the same material – I go it down. I wondered if maybe there was a way my physics teacher could give me the same help with AP Calc. He was the best he gave me audio lectures, old text-books, website links, tutorials online, videos, pamphlets. It was exactly what I needed to pass. I ended up getting a C- both semesters in calculus. The grade didn’t reflect my mastering of the material.

When the AP scores came back, I had earned a 5. I had gotten the highest score possible. There is nothing higher than a 5. That score of 5 guaranteed my calculus class would be honored by whatever university I decided to attend. I had learned the material. I hadn’t crammed for the tests, or finished all the problems that were assigned, and I hadn’t been in class every day, but the material was presented to me in so many different ways that I had completely mastered it.

You see I like what I do in school and in my life. I might be able to help your student. I know what it takes to succeed in today’s classroom. I love to help my fellow students and watch the light go when they say, “Now I get it.” I’ve helped many of my friends see the light. Heck, I even tutor my little sister. She still calls me up and says, “sissy can you help with some math, I don’t get how to…” Let me be clear about who I will, and will not, work with.

The students that I choose to tutor must have a goal of higher education. I mean they have to want to succeed. I want to help students just like me that have the desire to learn and develop their skills to excel at a future profession. I don’t work with kids that have no desire to do well. It’s because I value my time and will only have time to work with a handful of students at a time. I still have my Quantum Mechanics and Quantum Physics homework to do you know.

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