As I was observing my students teaching I stood in an elementary school hallway and saw this display.

This was on both sides of the hallway, 15 on one wall, 15 on the other. So you don’t have to blow it up to see, I will explain it. Each page says, “Who am I” and below that says, “My favorite: book, subject, pet, food, hobby, tv show, I’m Good at, When I grow up, I would like to be” on the left with blanks to fill in.

Here is the thing that really made me smile, and then get angry. Between the two boards, over half of the students said “My Favorite Subject is Math” or “I’m good at Math.”

No joke. This is a Title 1 elementary school, and in the sample of these two classrooms, these learners said they enjoy or they were good at math.

I was so happy.

Then I thought about high school math and I got angry.

Where does this joy go?

At what point in the education trajectory of learners does the joy disappear to be replaced by frustration, anger and dislike?

And then the bigger question of Why? What changed? The learners didn’t change? They progress through the classes, learning, enjoying, and being good at math.

My conclusion was that WE, teachers, the adults, change how we approach the math. I can only speak to high school, but I know I would have many discussions about math in PLC’s, and trying to steer the conversation to the learners is tough with some teachers. Why was this hard? It should be the standard.

It is not about content, it is about learners; people, human beings with needs and desires. Are we showing them through interesting problems they need the math? Why not?

Dan Meyer has been asking frequently, if xxxx is the headache, how is yyyyyy the aspirin? This is the right question we, as upper level K-12 teachers, need to be asking. Over and over. How are we fulfilling the needs of our learners? It isn’t with “it is on the test.”

I don’t have any answers to questions in this post. I really needed to share the picture. A picture of a group of learners who truly enjoyed math, and the emotional response I had to it. It shook me to the core to realize that as a math teacher, I was and am part of the problem.

I will be part of the solution too.

Just to end on a happy note, one of my learners from last year tweeted me and made me smile. People. I teach people. Not content.

@gwaddellnvhs I miss having your class! Thank you so much for preparing me for my current math class! (btw: I sent an email to you)

— Maddie (@maddiedream143) October 21, 2015

What grade level were those from? From what I’ve read and seen, most kids love math up until about 3rd grade, and then it dwindles.

You were concerned about the high school teachers. I am more concerned about the elementary teachers. They have not chosen math. My guess is that a large majority of them are uncomfortable with math, and pass that along to the kids.

These were two 4th grade classrooms. The teachers I have been working with in my Teacher Ed program are all in a STEM program (we were careful about who we selected to be Mentors). They are very engaged and active in math and science ed, in addition to the humanities. I would love to track their learners and see what they do in 10 years. It would be very interesting information.