Teachers Work For Salaries or Students

Taylor Mali on what teachers make. YouTube.

© copyright 2007 Betsy L. Angert

You have heard it said, perhaps you uttered the statements.  “I want to be a teacher and work only ten months a year.”  “I want a career that allows me to leave the “office” at 3 in the afternoon.”  “Those that can do; those that cannot teach.”  Some think, the job of an educator is a simple task.  There are no challenges.  The time spent on campus is short and sweet.  Yet, studies show that individuals are leaving the profession in mass.  According to the Washington Post half of new teachers quit within five years. 

Educators flee from a profession they once thought prized.  This has been the trend for quite some time.

Jessica Jentis fit the profile of a typical American teacher: She was white, held a master’s degree and quit 2 1/2 years after starting her career.

According to a new study from the National Education Association, a teachers union, half of new U.S. teachers are likely to quit within the first five years because of poor working conditions and low salaries.

Jentis, now a stay-at-home mother of three, says that she could not make enough money teaching in Manhattan to pay for her student loans and that dealing with the school bureaucracy was too difficult.

“The kids were wonderful to be with, but the stress of everything that went with it and the low pay did not make it hard to leave,” she said. “It’s sad because you see a lot of the teachers that are young and gung-ho are ready to leave.”

The proportion of new teachers who leave the profession has hovered around 50 percent for decades, said Barry A. Farber, a professor of education and psychology at Columbia University in New York.

Nevertheless, the misnomers surrounding this vocation continue to circulate.  Life is bliss when you work to help children learn.  Perhaps that is why teachers work as hard as they do.  They know they will not be fully financially compensated for doing as they routinely do.  Yet, their actions and the results of these are extremely rewarding.

Recently, Education Week published Teachers’ Workday Is Difficult to Pin Down.  This exposé discusses the dynamics of the teaching profession, from hours paid to hours worked.  Recently, a report , still in its preliminary stages revealed that teachers work, on average 15 ½ hours a day.  In an article published in the The Honolulu Advertiser teachers share their perspectives.

Dawn Kodama-Nii, a third-grade teacher at Wilson Elementary, called the study “pretty accurate,” at least in describing the amount of extra time she and her colleagues work.

She arrives at school by 7 a.m. to prepare lesson plans and get her classroom ready. She leaves at around 5 p.m., taking work home. Nearly every Sunday she puts in another seven-hour day.

“We put in so many hours,” said Kodama-Nii, who is married with a 2-year-old daughter. “As a teacher, your job is never done.”

But Sylvia Koo, a veteran math teacher at Farrington High who works an average of 10 hours a day, said it’s not the quantity but the quality of hours that should matter more.

“We do work more than our seven-hour day, but I don’t work 15 1/2 hours every day,” said Koo, who also advises the school’s math team and teaches math in an adult education class twice a week. “The fact that some teachers go home at 3 p.m., though, doesn’t make them bad teachers.”

Nor does it make them a teacher, “absent without official leave.”  Educators take their work with them wherever they go.  Most instructors cannot and do not leave their work at the “office.”  In my own life, once I exited the school building, my day was not done.  I graded papers while dining.  I wrote plans beginning in the late afternoon.  I was working and reworking into early evening.  Before I realized it, the day began again and I had yet to go to sleep.  Rest seemed less essential than preparing for my classes.  On most mornings, while in the shower, I would think of a better way to present the material. I would quickly make changes.

I drove back to the school building and waited in line to use the copy machine.  Well, I could have stood still and chatted; however, other arrangements needed my attention.  Students scurried in before the bell, hoping to speak with me.  There were parents to call, electronic mails to file through, paperwork to complete, and of course meetings.  Weekends were slightly different.  There was time to look for resources and materials.  These could help me motivate minds individually.  In truth, I must excite each pupil personally if they are to truly learn.

My story is not unique.  Teachers throughout the world could tell the same or similar tales.  Nevertheless,  those not driven to the teaching profession think this scenario is overstated, unreal, or simply not credible..  Individuals quarreled over the findings in this recent report.

An Advertiser editorial said that the 15½-hour workday “defies logic,” and added that the newspaper’s reporter should have spoken with someone outside the committee who could have brought perspective to the matter.

But the debate in Hawaii throws up a question with as many answers, it appears, as there are education interests: How many hours does the average teacher clock in?

Further complicating the issue is the fact that teachers work a calendar different from that of other professions-usually around 38 weeks a year.

Based on the shorter work year, some researchers have argued that teachers are on a par with other professions in pay for actual hours worked. A controversial report that came out earlier this year from researchers Jay P. Greene and Marcus A. Winters of the New York City-based Manhattan Institute computed hourly wages for teachers using data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to find that, on average, they earn more than economists, registered nurses, and architects, among others. In fact, it said, the average public school teacher was paid 36 percent more than the average white-collar worker in 2005.

While I, and many studies dispute this claim, I think it is vital that we look at what goes on in the classroom. On average, a single class may have twenty to forty students.  Each pupil has his or her own history and manner of working, coping, or relating to information and instruction.  These may not be complimentary.

The stress on a student or a teacher takes a toll.  While most educators feels connected to the scholars in their space and to the curriculum, troubling matters amass.  Frequently, a teacher is frustrated.  They feel they have little time to teach.  Discipline is a dilemma.  Class size does not always lend itself to effective instruction.  Efficacy is reduced.  Sadly, educators no longer believe that they can facilitate growth.  We have all heard the phrase, “teacher burn-out.” Frequently, educators, as people in all professions expect much of themselves.

We all see parents unable to “control” the crying of a lone child.  Perhaps, we are the forlorn mother or father embarrassed when our offspring runs rampant up and down store isles.  Imagine, being an instructor, trying to stimulate a class full of students, each with their own individual interests, while maintaining a constructive classroom demeanor.

The ability to control students in a classroom is a critical factor in any educational setting.  After all,  if teachers do not react adequately to students  when their behavior is disruptive, instruction suffers.  Teachers who distrust their ability  to maintain classroom order cannot avoid this key  factor of the job.  Day in, day out, they must  continue to instruct students in order to reach educational goals.

Teachers who have no confidence in their classroom management abilities are confronted by their incompetence every day, while  at the same time understanding how important that competence is if they are to perform well and  achieve the educational goals.  Furthermore, they are likely to know that their colleagues routinely  succeed in obtaining a comfortable classroom environment (Metz, 1978). 

Teachers who (1) distrust their classroom management abilities under standard job conditions  and (2) understand the importance of that competence, (3) cannot avoid the management tasks if they  are to reach the educational goals, and (4) are informed that colleagues routinely obtain a comfortable learning environment, can easily suffer  stress, exhaustion, and negative attitudes (Davies  & Yates, 1982; Usaf & Kavanagh, 1990).

Several  studies demonstrate that doubts about self-efficacy can in themselves trigger the burnout process.  Chwalisz, Altmaier, and Russell (1992) found that  teachers who score low in self-efficacy reported a higher degree of burnout than their counterparts who score high in self-efficacy.

Greenglass and  Burke (1988) conclude that doubts about self-efficacy contributed significantly to the development  of burnout among male teachers.  The more specific  relationship between teachers’ perceived self-efficacy in classroom management and burnout has  been investigated as well.  Friedman and Farber  (1992) found that teachers who considered themselves less competent in classroom management  and discipline reported a higher level of burnout  than their counterparts who have more confidence  in their competence in this regard.

Sigh deeply and continue to assess the predicament of educators.  When the Manhattan Institute cited their conclusion, there was a clamor among educators.  Career professionals spoke not of the circumstances within the learning environment.  They addressed other concerns, those mandated by government.

The study met with vehement opposition from teachers’ unions, which pointed out that it did not take into account additional hours that teachers put into their jobs outside the classroom.

While school days have always been long, “there is a lot going on now in terms of the No Child Left Behind Act,” said Reg Weaver, the president of the 3.1 million-member National Education Association, referring to the mandates of the 5-year-old federal law.

“There is a ton of paperwork that needs to be done in addition to other responsibilities, and teachers are trying to juggle the duties and responsibilities they have both in classroom and after school,” he added.

We have heard that from many a teacher; yet few take the time to consider the truth of this statement.  Assumptions are made.  Instructors often have students grade their own, or a classmates work.  Yet, those methods for correcting are not always practical, possible, or pedagogically sound.  Humans crave attention and the admiration of those they perceive as experts.  When a pupil works diligently, and receives a score on a paper and no comments, they feel lost, devastated, and desirous of more.  If an academic is expected to excel they must have information to assist them.  Authentic achievement involves much nurturing.  It is challenging to stimulate learning within a large group.  Individuals want and need attention.

Showing interest in each learner takes a lot of time.  The clock is ticking.  Twenty students, perhaps forty, five, six, or seven subjects to teach, this is the dilemma.  Journalist, Vaishalo Honawar, writes, this is a complicated question and the answer is equally complex.

Across the political spectrum, experts tend to agree that many teachers put in hours well in excess of the seven-hour workday stipulated in most union contracts.

According to Lawrence Mishel, the president of the Washington-based Economic Policy Institute, teachers work as hard as professionals in other fields, and then some.

“Teachers work as many hours per week as other college graduates, ? or at least women teachers work as much as or more than women college graduates in other professions, while male teachers work slightly less than male graduates in other professions,” said Mr. Mishel, whose board of directors includes labor-union officials.

“I think it’s a mistake for people to think teachers only work their contracted hours,” said Kate Walsh, the president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, a conservative-leaning advocacy, and policy group in Washington. It is “difficult and almost impossible” for teachers to get all their work, including preparation for class, done within the hours stipulated in the contract, she added.

Even the Bureau of Labor Statistics acknowledges that there is more to the question of teacher work hours than hard facts. In its latest annual survey on worker compensation, released last August, the bureau found that elementary teachers worked 36.5 hours a week, while secondary school teachers worked 36.9 hours. Special education teachers worked 35.4 hours.

But the bureau also says, in its Occupational Outlook Handbook, that after including school duties performed outside the classroom, many teachers work more than 40 hours a week.

Teachers’ unions, meanwhile, have their own figures. According to Mr. Weaver, the average teacher spends 50 hours a week on instructional duties, and 12 more hours on non-instructional tasks, such as grading papers, advising students, and serving on bus duty.

Those responsibilities, in essence, stretch the workday of an average teacher to more than 12 hours-almost twice what is stated in most contracts.

Yet, many quibble.  Among the economists and researchers, remarks are made.  Michael Podgursky, an Economics Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison quipped, “People always think they’re working. But if I’m on a treadmill thinking about work, does that count as work?”  Nevertheless, in Hawaii there may be some hope for overworked and underpaid teaching professionals.  It seems the Time Committee cares.  Will parents, Principals, School Boards, and Districts?

$63,000 More?
In Hawaii, the Time Committee was set up in 2005 as a result of a collective bargaining agreement between the school board and the union. (Hawaii has a single, statewide school district.) It was in response to teachers’ concerns of spending many extra hours on the job, said Joan Lee Husted, the executive director of the Hawaii State Teachers Association.

“Our teachers have been complaining that with NCLB and with standards-based education, they have been doing more testing, more paperwork, and more committee meetings than they are preparing for delivering instruction,” she said.

The preliminary report found that teachers spend 1,780 additional hours a year, or 254 additional seven-hour workdays, on noninstructional duties that include creating lesson plans, grading tests, counseling individual students, and communicating with parents, among many other tasks. If teachers were compensated for the additional work at the average daily rate of pay, the report says, it would cost $63,000 more per teacher per year.

Meanwhile, the NEA’s Mr. Weaver said a teacher working for 15 hours does not sound, to him, beyond the realm of possibility.

For most teachers, he said, a 12-hour workday is common.

“Teachers are always engaged with the children and the community,” Mr. Weaver said. “We spend a lot of time working.”

Perchance an additional $63,000 per teacher is ah, but a dream.  Nonetheless, in a time when American students are falling behind, we as a nation might consider that investing in education and educators benefits society as a whole.  Schools are not meant to serve as storage spaces for children, while parents go off and play or make money to pay the bills.  Our educational institutions are the foundation for our future.

A Teachers Work and Wages . . .

  • pdf Teachers’ Workday Is Difficult to Pin Down, By Vaishali Honawar.  Education Week. April 18, 2007
  • Teacher’s day ends long after bell, By Catherine E. Toth. Advertiser Urban Honolulu Sunday, March 4, 2007
  • How Much Are Public School Teachers Paid? By Jay P. Greene and Marcus A. Winters.  The Manhattan Institute
  • The National Compensation Survey (NCS) U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics
  • Half of Teachers Quit in 5 Years, Working Conditions, Low Salaries Cited. By Lisa Lambert. Reuters.  Washington Post.  Tuesday, May 9, 2006; A07
  • pdf Half of Teachers Quit in 5 Years, Working Conditions, Low Salaries Cited. By Lisa Lambert. Reuters.  Washington Post. Tuesday, May 9, 2006; A07
  • Insights Into Why U.S. Students Lag Behind in Global Academic ‘Horse Race,’ By Edward B. Fiske. International Herald Tribune. Tuesday, February 11, 1997
  • Ed Week. ‘Math Anxiety’ Confuses the Equation for Students

    © copyright 2007 Betsy L. Angert

    Education Week is discussing “Math Anxiety.”  The American Association for the Advancement of Science is about to embark on their annual endeavor, assessing Math and Science in the schools.  A seminar is planned and educators are looking forward to the analysis.  A precursor to the meeting evokes this discussion, ‘Why might people, pupils have anxiety about Mathematics.”  I know why.  I lived  with this angst for decades.

    Social scientists thought the reason for such stress was a simple one.  I loathe that notion.  For me, nothing is “just that simple!”  I believe life is complex.  Learning is an intricate  process, more so than any of us might imagine.  The individual nuances that comprise our unique being cloud an already complicated reality.  Each step involved in erudition expands our horizons.  Every aspect of a problem is part of a broader evolution.  The whole is far greater than the sum of the parts. 

    When we consider a triangle, we might recall the rote formula we all memorized as children.  The angles added together will equal 180 degrees.  Well, while this is true when mathematicians calculate in a two dimensional world, the globe on which we live is three-dimensional, some think it is four.

    Math, more so than any other subject, can release stressors in the brain.  The source of these can be felt in the heart and the soul.  When studying arithmetic there is an accepted belief; answers are correct or they are wrong.  Few professors focus on the more important process, why does a formula work.  What does each calculation mean; how might one measure define the whole or a part?  How and why are the recommended actions relevant? 

    Pupils rarely comprehend the underlying principles.  Therefore, students do not understand the elements.  Hence, they are left feeling as though they cannot succeed.  Many will not.  Learners do not have, what for them is the necessary information.  Sadly, with all the recently imposed curriculum constraints, scholars are not afforded the luxury of learning in a manner that might meet their needs.  Facts and formulas are imposed; thus, the trauma.

    When we cannot conceive that we will achieve, we will not.  What we do in one academic discipline affects our performance in other areas.  Researchers are now realizing that they must address “Math Anxiety.”  Pupils are the priority; life principles influence learning in a profound way.  Just as the experts are now noticing a struggle with Math can change a life.  It altered mine greatly. 

    I was once an A+ Mathematics student.  I excelled in Algebra.  I began studying when I was very young, before preschool.  Math was my pleasure and then, a teacher turned my love into panic.  “Arithmetic Angst” set in.

    ‘Math Anxiety’ Confuses the Equation for Students
    Researchers delve into causes and implications of fear of the subject.
    By Sean Cavanagh
    Coverage of education research is supported in part by a grant from the Spencer Foundation.
    Vol. 26, Issue 24, Page 12

    Stellar athletes, successful entrepreneurs, and motivational speakers like to say that pressure makes diamonds. The higher the stakes and the harder the circumstances, the thinking goes, the more likely we are to overcome our fears and doubts and produce results.

    If only it were that simple in mathematics.

    In recent years, researchers and educators have delved further into the topic of “math anxiety,” or the ways in which students’ lack of confidence in that subject undermines their academic performance. Today, the issue is receiving renewed attention from academic scholars and others, who believe that developing a better understanding of the causes and implications of math anxiety is a key to improving achievement for many students.

    Emotional and cognitive factors in learning, including math anxiety, were scheduled to be explored at a seminar in San Francisco this weekend at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The AAAS, which is based in Washington, is an international professional association of scientists.

    “It’s easy for people to hear of this and dismiss it. They hear of it and say, `Why is this a problem?’ ” said Mark H. Ashcraft, a professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who was slated to speak on the topic at the AAAS gathering.

    “It affects people’s academic performance,” he said of such anxiety. “It affects people’s career choice. It’s not just an attitude or feeling that can be ignored.”

    When he first began examining the impact of anxiety on math performance, Mr. Ashcraft assumed that students’ unease or nervousness amounted to “an attitude,” as he recalls it, rather than a phobia with a direct link to the brain’s processes. “I was wrong,” he says now.

    A number of researchers, including Mr. Ashcraft, say there is evidence that anxiety disrupts student performance in math by wreaking havoc with “working memory.” Such capacity is a type of short-term memory individuals use to retain a limited amount of information while working on a task-and block out distractions and irrelevant information. Anxiety can sap students’ working memory during tests, but in other problem-solving situations, too.

    Please allow me to share more of my own story.  I went to a small high school.  Eight hundred students attended classes school-wide.  Pupils were tracked according to their skills.  I was placed in the upper-level classes.

    In the Spring and Fall of my first year, on our final exam, I received the only A+.  Each test consisted of twenty word problems.  Oh, how I loved these.  My instructor insisted, all work must be displayed.  A correct answer without work was awarded no credit.  He wanted to ensure that we understood the process and why it works.  A right or wrong answer meant little to this marvelous Math master.

    Then it happened.  I was enrolled into Miss Zs class the following year.  I had no trouble with complex conceptual concepts in the past.  Yet, I had many struggles with this teacher personally.  While I acknowledge . . .

    ‘Conceptual Barriers’
    Some evidence also suggests that anxiety is more of a factor in math than in other subjects.

    While students who are anxious about math sometimes are equally apprehensive about other subjects, that anxiety does not undermine their performance in areas such as verbal skill to the same extent it does in math, Mr. Ashcraft and others say. And while the public may be inclined to see anxiety as simply a byproduct of a student not understanding a math concept or topic, researchers believe students’ self-doubts can in fact be a prime cause of those struggles.

    Students feel more anxiety in math partly because they are dealing with so many concepts and procedures that are foreign to them, said Robert S. Siegler, a professor of cognitive psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh, who has examined children’s thinking abilities in math and science. Once students realize they do not grasp a math concept, the internal pressure grows.

    “Math entails certain conceptual barriers that lead people to read the same passage over and over again and not understand it,” Mr. Siegler said. By contrast, in reading a history lesson, students are likely to recognize vocabulary, themes, and ideas, even if they do not understand all the implications of a particular passage.

    “You don’t feel like you totally didn’t understand it, and you’re just floundering,” he said.

    This was not my situation.  The paradox of incompatible psyches was.  Miss Z was a woman that saw the world as black or white, right or wrong.  When she “explained” a problem she went through the steps one by one, never expressing the thought behind the process.  A proof was a proof. This mathematician went from point A to B without clarification.  For her, it was “Just that simple.”  If only she elucidated the concepts.  I might have been enlightened.  Oh, how I long for Mister K, the colossal connoisseur of Math Meaning. 

    My parents tried to have me moved to another classroom.  Perhaps another teacher could help me.  However, when attending a small school there are few options and less leeway than there might have been elsewhere.  My High School as a whole was magnificent.  The educators exemplary.  There was only the one, the instructor that changed my life.  I had no desire to leave what was beneficial to me.  A better Math education might be found; however, at what cost.  My family and I chose this institution, for overall, it was the best. 

    Still, with each passing day greater anxiety set in.  I frequently sought assistance from Miss Z.  On every occasion, I left in tears.  Clearly, she did not care to explain in a manner that might assist me.  Her words were curt; they cut like a knife.  I, on the other hand, did care.  I expressed my extreme concern.  I had an aptitude for abstract concepts throughout my life and knew to my core I could, I would understand if only. . . .

    What I did comprehend was I was lost, lost in my longing for knowledge and a devoted, understanding instructor!  Confusion became my constant companion.

    In his research, Mr. Ashcraft has found that anxiety tends to have the most powerful impact on students when they are working on certain types of math problems-typically those with larger numbers, or those requiring multiple steps.

    Individuals with high levels of math anxiety tend to rush through problems, making them prone to errors, the UNLV researcher has concluded. Those math-anxious students also have far more difficulty on problems that require processes such as “carrying” numbers than on questions where such steps are not necessary.

    In a 2001 study, published by Mr. Ashcraft and Elizabeth P. Kirk, now a postdoctoral fellow at the Georgia Institute of Technology, the researchers concluded that math-anxious students struggle on problems involving carrying, borrowing, and long division. Those processes require a lot of working memory, they concluded, a function that is easily disrupted among students prone to math anxiety.

    “[A]nxious individuals devote attention to their intrusive thoughts and worries, rather than the task at hand,” Mr. Ashcraft explained in a 2002 paper discussing that study. “In the case of math anxiety, such thoughts probably involve preoccupation with one’s dislike or fear of math, one’s low self-confidence.  [P]aying attention to these intrusive thoughts acts like a secondary task, distracting attention from the math task.”

    Interestingly, these conceptual challenges were never concerns of mine.  I longed to use my capacity for carrying, borrowing, and long division.  I pride myself on my amazing memory.  However, when I feel my spirit is suffocated, when I feel certain that success in a given situation is not likely I freeze.  Miss Z never expressed any confidence in my skills.  I imagine that she saw my papers and placed an “F” at the top without even reviewing my attempts.  Although, admittedly, I cannot be certain.  Still, I relate.

    ‘Choking Under Pressure’
    Others have sought to better identify which students are most prone to the effects of anxiety in math. Sian L. Beilock, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Chicago, found that students who had high amounts of working-memory capacity were, in fact, most susceptible to seeing their performance fall in math, on more complicated problems.

    Ms. Beilock and Thomas H. Carr, a professor of psychology at Michigan State University, in East Lansing, summarized their findings in a 2005 paper published by the American Psychological Society, titled “When High-Powered People Fail: Working Memory and `Choking Under Pressure’ in Math.”

    Students with a good amount of working memory rely on “really intensive strategies” to solve math problems, such as keeping track of numbers in their heads as they move from step to step, Ms. Beilock explained in an interview. That approach serves them well on relatively simple math problems, but not more complicated ones, she said.

    In higher-pressure situations, such as timed tests, or where researchers put students under additional stress, those high-memory students fare more poorly. Performance pressure sucks the working-memory that has served them so well previously. By contrast, individuals with relatively little working-memory capacity do not seem to suffer as much, Ms. Beilock said.

    The idea that students with a lot of working memory-who tend to be better students-fare more poorly under pressure is counterintuitive, Ms. Beilock acknowledged. And it has implications for evaluating student performance through tests, she said.

    “Testing is hitting people who would normally perform the best, the hardest,” she said. Because of the impact of pressure on exam performance, she said, “it’s dangerous to [make] conclusions about ability from the test.” Performance pressure among top students, she added, could be pulling them down on tests.

    Still, research has shown that students can learn to overcome anxiety, Ms. Beilock said. One strategy simply involves practice with math problems, which can make it easier to retrieve answers from memory. Another is to train students to become more accustomed to working under pressure by having them take timed practice tests, for example.

    Oh yes, these strategies will work.  If I fear failing, I struggle to breathe when taking a test.  If my heart pounds faster when I am timed, then immerse me in all that breeds misery for me.  These theories make sense in some convoluted universe.

    Although there has been little definitive research on what makes math anxiety worse, some scholars have suggested that math teachers or parents can ratchet up the anxiety of students by placing unrealistically high demands on them, or by showing annoyance when concepts aren’t quickly mastered, while providing little academic support. Mr. Ashcraft also points out that math anxiety is somewhat higher among women than men.

    Exactly!!!!!!!!  The external and internal pressures placed on a student cause great suffering.  These are far more volatile than any conceptual barrier, at least they were and are for me.

    Sheila M. Ford, a former elementary math resource teacher and principal in Washington, believes anxiety is just as likely to affect students in other subjects. But she also believes students’ uneasiness in math tends to rise faster if they sense that a teacher does not have mastery of the material.

    “It goes back to teacher preparation and knowledge of the subject matter,” said Ms. Ford, a former member of the governing board that sets policy for the National Assessment of Educational Progress. “If the teacher’s uncomfortable with the curriculum, it will be noticeable to the students.”

    At times, the teacher may have knowledge and is prepared to facilitate growth; however, sometimes educators forget that the way in which they communicate, verbally, and nonverbally matters.  Teachers that are rushed, overwhelmed with paperwork, insensitive to individual student needs can harm a pupil.  It is true, if a child fails in one discipline they are likely to falter in another, perhaps every academic study.  Their sense of themselves is also reduced.

    An instructor has more power than they might recognize or accept.  Individuals are fragile and if we lump them into one frame and forget how easily effected they are then we have not done as we aspired to do.

    “Math Anxiety” is not mere folly.  It involves more than a momentary stress or a single subject.  If we are to serve our students well, we must evaluate a larger equation.  It is not only what goes on in a classroom, or on a piece of paper; the entire process must be questioned and thought through.

    As a Math anxious student, I never forgot this scenario.  The repercussions benefited me when I later became  a teacher.  I understand the importance of patience.  I comprehend that any given student might be brilliant behind what appears to be a bumbling façade.  I acknowledge that if I as an instructor am not presenting material in a manner that meets the pupils needs I must find an alternative.  All of this was solidified in my mind years later.

    I was substitute teaching in a High School Math class.  These students were also tracked.  I found myself in a precarious situation, teaching upper level Advanced Placement students in a very affluent, well-educated District.  I confessed my sins to the class, telling them that as much as I once loved Math and expected to study it in college, after my own High School experience, I left Mathematics, Geometry, Calculus, and Trigonometry behind.  I asked them to assist me; they would have to instruct each other.  I requested volunteers.  Knowledgeable students came to the board and explained problems as they offered solutions.  They went through each equation step-by-step.  I was dumbfounded.  The progression was so clear; the steps made perfect sense.  My gosh, I could do this work.  If only all those years were not wasted.

    I thanked the students for teaching me in a manner that met my needs.  They were clear, patient, willing to answer questions, and most importantly, they did not judge me.  Although I admitted to my shortcomings, these lovelies did not define me as incompetent.  These empathetic souls actually understood my anxiety.  Perhaps, that was the greatest treasure.

  • pdf ‘Math Anxiety’ Confuses the Equation for Students, Researchers delve into causes and implications of fear of the subject. By Sean Cavanagh.  Education Week. February 16, 2007. Vol. 26, Issue 24, Page 12