Last year I had this student who struggled in Algebra II. And then, one day, he decided he hated struggling. He was frustrated and didn’t want to be frustrated anymore. He wanted to get math. And so… he did. To the point where he was getting almost perfects on assessments.
This was a student who I always thought highly of (I knew him both inside and outside of the classroom), and when he was frustrated, I felt for him. And when he made a dramatic turnaround, I couldn’t have been more elated. I have to say, there are some students who you just want to ask you to write college recommendations for. And these college recommendations just roll off the keyboard. He asked me, and I remember sitting down, and going at it. I think it ended up being two and a half pages, and I had to edit it down to be that. He exemplified the transformation that I hope all my struggling kids go through, but his transformation was the most dramatic of all my students last year.
Because I wanted my kids this year to know that they can struggle, and come through the other side, I invited this student to come talk to my class for a few minutes and talk about his frustrations. And how he made his transformation. I want to show my kids that they can be more successful, but there is no royal road to mathematics. The way to be successful is to work hard.
The key points that my former student made when talking to my kids:
- One day, one moment, he said “enough’s enough.” And he made a decision to do well in math. He was sick of that low grade on his report card, year after year. It was this moment that changed it all, because he changed his mindset to “I can’t do it” to “I will do it.”
- He said that doing well in math has a lot to do with confidence. He didn’t have a lot of confidence, but slowly when things began to turn around, he became slightly more confident. And then more confident. And now, this year, he is overconfident in math.
- He said that those annoying “explain this” questions that Mr. Shah asked were… annoying. But once he learned why I was asking them, that I was trying to get him to understand more than procedures, but to draw connections and see everything fit together, they made sense.
- He stopped looking at each test as something that needed to be crammed for the night before. Instead, each night he would work on understanding the material. And when doing this, he saw connections.
- He entreated my kids this year to try to draw connections between everything we’ve learned. Because that’s how it all hangs together. That’s what made everything click for him.
- He also said that even though he failed the first five binder checks, he finally figured it out. And he could be organized.
I don’t know if his message got through to any of my kids, but I do know that me saying these things isn’t going to do as much as a kid who went through the trenches and came out a hero.
So if you want to honor a kid who was awesome, and maybe (possibly?) get through to your class, think about inviting a former student to give a short guest lecture!
PS. I have former calculus students stop by all the time, and I always make them come to class. Sometimes I’ll leave the room and have the student talk to the class alone, about what recommendations they might have for my current students, sometimes I’ll stay, and sometimes I’ll have ’em talk about college life, and how everyone gets through the college application process, and how truly there is light at the end of the tunnel (even when it may not feel that way).