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Corps Member Monday: The Irony of Ironies

September 30, 2013

By: Stephanie Ambroise, Corps Member proudly serving on the JPMorgan Chase Team at Capitol Middle School

I cannot lie. Sometimes when I’m in a classroom, I spend a good amount of time thinking about the days when I was there. My class periods were shorter, but they still seemed too long. I did not like being in school and I remember the days I’d spend looking out of the window wanting to do something more important. I hated sitting in my seat knowing that people were getting hurt, or getting sick, or needed someone to talk to, and I was listening to a teacher go on and on about quadratic equations. I remember thinking, why am I here? This is such a colossal waste of my time. I could be doing things that are so much more useful to the world than sitting here crunching numbers. I could be changing the world.

Fast forward a couple of year and my knees are bent, my hands are in my lap, my voice is soft but urgent, encouraging one of my students to finish a problem. She is multiplying 8×3, and she carries the two, but forgets to add the two to the 48 she just got. I go “Hmm…”, and she goes, “Wait, wait!”. She fixes it by herself and carries on. We’re studying the multiplication of scientific notation and she was multiplying the first two factors. My students struggles with decimals, but she worked through it slowly but surely.

We get to the next problem, and her eyebrows are furrowed. I watch her erase furiously and rewrite. I hear her noises of frustrations, but she is no longer speaking to me. She carries the 5 and then adds it. At the end of the multiplying, I watch her count the decimal places and put the decimal point in the right place. I smile because I’m so proud of her. I nod and then turn to leave in order to go help one of the other ten students who have been calling for help.

“Wait!”
“Why? You’ve got this! I just watched you do it all by yourself!”
“I know, but I’m afraid that when you leave, I’m going to make a mistake!”

I was both confounded and brokenhearted by this. I noticed her struggle to finish the problems, but I also watched her correct herself and fix her mistakes. At the end, I even told her she got the right answer and she had smiled up at me proudly. I hadn’t said a word to her regarding the second problem, but she still didn’t feel like she had done it on her own.

As much as I’m the one who’s here to help the students learn with math, the irony of ironies was that she had taught me something on that day. When I was in school, the only reason I could spend as much time as I did staring out of the window and drooling is because I knew that once it was time to do work, I could do it. In fact, the only reason why I know I could succeed as a Corps Member is the confidence that I’ve gained from being able to successfully understand and work through problems presented to me.

One of the problems with being a student who’s struggling is not just the struggle itself, but feeling like you will always struggle. The feeling that no matter how much of the problems you do, you’ll never be able to fully grasp it on your own. That no matter how many times someone goes over the work with you, you’ll never understand. One of the ways to get rid of this anxiety is to just not attempt the work. This was once my students solution to this anxiety.

I realize, because of this interaction with my student, that what comes with the dreariness of worksheet after worksheet and problem after the problem is that eventually the work becomes routine until it becomes basic. Now that my student is doing the work, she’s on track with being able to collect the confidence that comes with a problem that goes from being a struggle to becoming basic. Whether she realizes this or not, she will get quicker in being able to solve it and this will make her feel better not only about her skills in math, but in her general abilities to accomplish anything if she chooses to put in the effort that she chose to put in that day in class. This confidence in her abilities is not solely useful in a classroom setting, but will be something that will be of good to her long after she leaves the classroom.

I find it ironic after leaving behind the world of academia, I am back in a classroom helping a child crunch numbers. I find it ironic that my day is made when a child successfully completes problems I used to think were useless to know. I know now that this is because, like my student has taught me, figuring a problem out is not only just about the success of getting to the correct answer, but in the collection of confidence that comes one day when a student realizes they can solve it solo. That was one of the most important gains foe me in school and it’s this virtue of confidence I want all my students to know.

Do you want to help build a student’s confidence next year? Visit bit.ly/14HaAPC to learn more!

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