I always enjoy visiting classrooms and observing teachers in my own discipline of English and letters. I am not nearly as comfortable when I visit the math classes, like this one this evening, because math still challenges me.

math-classBut if learning math ever challenged me, who no matter how managed to get through college level algebra and trigonometry, I REALLY admire the courage and patience of this teacher in the lowest level of developmental math at the two-year college.

The learners are the former kids who somehow got left behind before “no child left behind” (whether one sets much store by NCLB or not). This class is almost entirely female, age range from mid-twenties through thirties with a few forties in the mix, most of them with children/family/job responsibilities which cause them to take the after-hours class.

This evening’s topics: adding and subtracting fractions, figuring percentages, and other fundamentals. Plain old middle school mathematics. These students all have college algebra as their goal, but they’re having to walk up through levels beginning with these basics and continuing next semester into pre-algebra. The sad statistic is that no more than fifty per cent or so of these students will make it to college algebra–probably fewer than fifty per cent, in fact.

The teacher, bless her heart, is just a slam-dunk excellent math teacher. She teaches top-level math classes at a local high school during the day to many above-average high school kids, so she must really find this adult ed. night class to be a step down. But she has amazing patience with the more motivated adults, as she works problems, explains, and answers questions with ringing clarity. I don’t know how she keeps the faith, because for all of the rewards–i.e., successful students–she has just as many if not more unsuccessful. As a teacher, I know how students’ failure, even when they bring it on themselves, can be a drag on professional self-esteem.

So hats off to the profession of developmental math: Let’s put these brave stalwarts in the category with fire and emergency personnel. Their hazards are not normally life-threatening, but for the stress and anxiety they must endure against all odds for success, we honor them!

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