Hopefully this video by Angela Lee Duckworth hits home.
The vast majority of adults pay someone else to get their taxes done. There are those that do their taxes on their own. There are those that avoid taxes completely and have to suffer the consequences. You also have accountants. They have made a profession out of helping people with their taxes. The point is, taxes are inevitable. High school math is pretty much the same thing… just for teenagers. Whether one likes it or dislikes it, can do it on their own or has to hire outside help to survive, the point is, we must get through it. Talk to someone about the math classes they took in school and you won’t hear, “I didn’t have to take math!” Try asking someone about taxes and you won’t hear “I don’t have to pay them!” Like taxes, the journey through high school math is exactly what we make it out to be. For some it’s just a means to an end. For others it changes their whole life because it becomes the foundation for their profession.
As a teacher, my least favorite question. A student’s grade should reflect their understanding. The best way to improve math competence is to get in front of it BEFORE it becomes a problem. There is no quick fix. Tutors can definitely help but that obviously come at a price.
However, if your child is currently getting a poor grade these four questions can zero in on the problem. Is it lack of effort either in class or at home? Is it lack of skills? Is lack of conceptual knowledge? Have there been extenuating circumstances (health issues, family issues, excessive absences, etc.)? These issues can certainly be intertwined as well. The answer to all four questions very well could be yes. Contact your child’s teacher. If you can’t get good feedback from the teacher then you need to have a sit-down-honest conversation with them. Have the conversation calmly and non-judgemental. Let them know “this is where we are at and we need to be honest so we can move forward correctly!” Always remember that teenagers will “manipulate the truth for a favorable outcome.” If they say they “kind of” get it then they don’t understand the concept. If they say they make “silly mistakes” then their skills are letting them down. If they say their teacher “doesn’t explain it” then they are distracted in class. Its the teenage way to deflect blame. Always come back to what can you and your child do to improve. Don’t rely on others.
Lastly, develop a plan to move forward. A “C” is the worst possible grade a student can get for the final mark in a high school math class. A “C” stands for “C”ontinue with “C”rappy skills. Remember that math is cumulative. Poor skills are like a snowball that picks up speed and volume to the point it can crush somebody (really dramatic I know). What a student doesn’t have mastered will ultimately come back to rear its ugly head. At least if a student gets a grade where they can’t move on, they will be placed back in an appropriate class. The worse thing we can do as adults is force kids into thing they’re not ready for. Use the summer or down periods to hone in on those skills they’ll need in the next year, semester, or quarter. Treat math like reading. One will only be successful by consistently doing it.
Before I can answer this question, there’s two things you need to know about MOST teenagers: 1) They want the easiest path possible. 2) They will manipulate the truth for a favorable outcome. If you feel these aren’t true for you child then, congratulations, you truly have a unique teenager!
So the first answer to the original question? Help them find their motivation!!! Its impossible to convince a teenager (and most adults) that math is important when they already have it in their head that its not. Don’t even try. Instead motivate them from the standpoint that doing well in school opens doors that will otherwise close. The truth is that students that struggle mathematically often end up taking the most math classes. It can get really frustrating really fast.
The second honest answer? Push and support. Push them to do their best and support them with bumps along the way. Remember that this a marathon not a sprint. There are no quick fixes. A student struggling in math either lacks the skills to solve the problem or the understanding behind the concept. Hard work can help with both of things but wanting to work hard comes from motivation. You can see the symbiotic relationship we have here.
Being a parent of a teenager can be a daunting task in almost every aspect of life. I’ve found math can be a huge level of stress for the entire family. I’ve comprised a list of the most common questions I’ve heard through the years.
“What can I do to help my child in math?”
“How can my child improve their grade?”
“Do I need to hire a tutor?”
“Why does my child’s math homework take them forever?”
“What math class should my child take next year?”
“What’s the difference between regular, honors, and AP classes?”
“What can my child do in the summer to get ahead?”
We will delve into these questions in future posts.
Have more questions to ask? Feel free to comment and get the conversation going.