Saturday, May 11, 2013

Bad at Math

Ben Orlin, who is now a math teacher, has a fabulous personal essay on What It Feels Like to Be Bad at Math. An excerpt:

As the day [of my presentation in the seminar class on topology] approached, I began to panic. I called my dad, a warm and gentle soul. It didn’t help. I called my sister, a math educator who always lifts my spirits. It didn’t help. Backed into a corner, I scheduled a meeting with the professor to throw myself at his mercy.

I was sweating in the elevator up to his office. The worst thing was that I admired him. Most world-class mathematicians view teaching undergraduates as a burdensome act of charity, like ladling soup for unbathed children. He was different: perceptive, hardworking, sincere. And here I was, knocking on his office door, striding in to tell him that I had come up short. An unbathed child asking for soup.

Teachers have such power. He could have crushed me if he wanted.

He didn’t, of course. [...] [Bold emphasis added]

Bonus: Fistfuls of Sand: (or, Why It Pays to Be a Stubborn Teacher) from Orlin's blog.