Mathematicians aren’t born—they’re made. That’s why one of my favorite phrases is “I hate math.” Nearly every student shares this sentiment with me at some point during the school year, and when they do, I simply smile. Because I know that by the end of my class, those same students will find their inner mathematician.
For me, this is what teaching is all about—helping students discover parts of themselves they never realized they had. Over the years, I’ve helped dozens of students overcome their math anxiety.
4 ways to help students learn to love math
1. Commit to inspired teaching
To me, inspired teaching means I can’t just be my students’ teacher—I need to be their supporter and a champion of their growth. That’s why I work so hard to help them see the creativity, the beauty, and the fun in math. For example, if we’re studying fractions, I encourage them to think about the measurements of specific ingredients for their favorite recipes. If we’re examining slopes in algebra, I ask them to make a connection between what they see on their computer screen and famous roads across the country. And if we’re discussing transformations in geometry, I urge them to consider the movements of their favorite football players across the field. These are all examples of ways I help all students get a practical grasp of what math truly is.
2. Preach the value of mistakes
My goal is to build an environment in which wrong answers are just as valuable as right ones. I know that mistakes get us one step closer to the solution, and as I tell my students, that’s what life is about, too. As each of us eventually learns, life isn’t as simple as right or wrong, failure or success. So much of life happens in the grey. It’s the same way with math. Sometimes it takes a while to get to the right answer. And that’s ok! Whether I’m teaching equations, inequalities, or basic algebra, I remind my students that getting the wrong answer more than once means they’re even less likely to make those mistakes again.
3. Advocate for growth mindsets
I work so hard to dispel the myth that only a gifted few are good at math. When we treat math like it’s all about formulas and algorithms, we do our students a great disservice. Unfortunately, that’s been the goal for so long—just getting students to the right answer as quickly as possible. But that’s not all math is about. Math is about recognizing patterns in the world around us. It’s about cultivating curiosity. These are the things we need to share with our students. Like so many other things in life, math is something that takes practice. Our students need to know that just because math isn’t their strong suit today, doesn’t mean it can’t be tomorrow.
4. Strengthen your own professional skills
I take my responsibility as a teacher very seriously. And I don’t take the opportunity to change lives for granted. From my school’s book study club to participating in free workshops and webinars offered by edWeb.net to joining my school’s mentorship program, I’m constantly honing my own skills and thinking of new ways to give my students the high-quality, personalized education they deserve. I want them to know that just because they may not have been the best math student in the past, they have the potential to become one now. If I can convince my students that it’s worth the effort to keep trying, then I know I’ve done my job.