My Problem With Sixth Grade Math

May 06, 2020

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In junior high, I was lucky to have math teachers that worked hard to make sure I understood the material thoroughly and maintained my excitement for learning. Between real-life-math-projects and watching silly math-themed music video parodies, I was eager to be in class with my friends. (Shoutout to all of the “Teach Me How To Factor” fans out there.)

When I moved on to high school, I had more on my plate with new extracurriculars and a little sister who deserved all of my attention. There wasn’t enough time in my mind to practice math, and that was okay with me. But my teachers didn’t accept that and pushed me to continue learning when I thought my “brain was too full.” 

I was taught by the world that math is for men and that I would be better suited for language arts or theater (which I’ll admit, I was great at). But through each disheartening new mathematical skill, I was so encouraged and supported by my teachers that I knew I could defy those stereotypes and expectations.

I lost my interest in math somewhere in Algebra II (seriously, I mean what even is SohCahToa) but I never forgot how exciting it felt to learn a new skill. Math is challenging! And because of this, every new bit of knowledge feels like a serious win. I miss the pride and fulfillment that came from realizing I finally understood long division! 

I never understood my mom’s frustration with my homework. I mean, it made sense to me, so why didn’t she get it?

Right now, that little sister is staying with me these days because our mom is so bravely and compassionately working with COVID-19 positive patients. It is now my responsibility to help her with her eLearning work, specifically sixth-grade math. As an instructing assistant for an undergraduate course at our local university, I remember being great in math class at the level, and so, I came into this with all of the confidence in the world only to lose it in an instant.

I spent the first day of our homework help calling all of my friends in STEM to ask if they could help me understand fractions. FRACTIONS. It was embarrassing! And while those panicked calls brought some insight on problem-solving, I am not afraid to admit that I still didn’t totally get it. But my sister did, and she plowed right on through.

Over the last two weeks, I have served my sister as an athletic coach, dance instructor, art teacher, band director, fellow binge-watcher, and math tutor all while trying to stay the cool big sister I’ve always tried to be. And through all of this, I’ve realized I have a major problem with sixth-grade math: I was NEVER meant to teach it.

To teach sixth-grade math, you have to be patient, creative, and compassionate while limiting distractions and encouraging self-discovery. I thought I was a pro at all of that before this happened, but I realize now I have so much to learn. My sister and I are beyond grateful for the time and effort her teachers have made in video-chatting with us and explaining how to do the work. She’s definitely brushing up on her skills with each lesson, but I really feel like I’m learning long-lost ideas and practices that I’ve forgotten for 20 years. Well, at least 10 years.

To all of the teachers out there, in math or other disciplines, I want to say a big and bold THANK YOU for the work that you do. If my sister’s education was dependent on me, I would not have much hope. You all are moving mountains to reach and connect with your students in this pandemic and I, for one, could not be more grateful for the resources and knowledge you bring to the table.

And for any math teachers that stuck around to the end, we are still working on this problem and would really appreciate help. Seriously, I think it might be impossible.

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