by Jeffrey Chadwick


My life as a math teacher/tutor changed the day one of my students told me that MATH was an acronym for Mental Abuse Towards Humans. Though a bit grammatically off and crude, there is a bit of perceptive truth in this revelation…and humor!

One of the most common concerns that I see in math students of all ages is a fear or insecurity that they simply are not smart enough. The problem with this way of thinking is you don’t have to be smart to be superb at math; you just have to be willing to follow a process. The actual “mental abuse” is often not from the math itself, but from the environment in which the student has to approach the subject or the conditioning, the student has already received from past experiences. Worse yet, it could be the things they have been told, sadly often from parents.

Take for example a parent that, for whatever reason, never learned how to ride a bicycle. Their child begins to take an interest in riding a bike. What parent would ever say, “Don’t count on me to help you. I was never good at riding a bicycle.” This would only deepen any fears about riding a bicycle by causing them to think, “If my mom can’t ride one, it must be really hard” or “If Dad won’t be there to help me, who will?”
It is the same when a child needs to learn math. Maybe math was not your best subject. You are as afraid of math as you know your child is, if not more because now you have the responsibility to teach them. You may just be projecting your fear of math onto your child. Just like riding the bike, creating new fear in your children due to your apprehension toward math can be more of a hindrance than the math content itself.

I often see students with real fear (stress, shakes, crying, etc.) walking into math class, if we even get them that far. My first goal on day one is not to teach math, but alleviate fears. Really. I don’t touch math on day one. We make the day about the individual; what they like, what they don’t like, and what they want to do when they grow up. I sing. I dance. I draw funny pictures on the board. I allow the students to laugh in a room that will be their math environment going forward.

As parents, we should also not be afraid to admit we’re not good at math. Even so, we’ve arrived at this point in life, waking every day, loving ourselves and loving our children. The point is, we need, to be honest, but with hope for the student. Unfortunately, many parents will still let pride get in the way and attempt to teach math on their own, even though they just told the child math is not their favorite subject. This approach has too much potential to create additional stress for the child and further increase frustration with both the parent and child.

Parents, do not be afraid to obtain the assistance of others you trust to teach your child math. Discuss it in a positive manner with your child as you might when explaining why we use doctors, barbers, or other professionals rather than doing tasks ourselves. They know what they are doing. They can help me accomplish a major goal. They help us as a family. They keep me from walking out of the house with a terrible haircut!

We should not lie to our children. Math can be difficult, more so for some than others. However, fear should never be the reason why our children will not approach math. We should always build a positive environment for our children as we teach any subject. Think of it this way: I finally rode my first big roller coaster only after the desire to ride the coaster was more than the fear that once kept me off of it.

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