Gymnastics with numbers….and thanking a teacher.

    I love math. It’s so simple and so logical. I also have passion for movement.  Math is movement. It’s gymnastics with numbers. Isn’t that a fun way to look at it?

    I didn’t always feel this way. When I was young, I didn’t do very well in math. I used to feel incredibly stupid, clumsy and frustrated. Everyone else seemed to understand and catch on so easily, where I always struggled. It did not help that I was told I had no aptitude for math, or even worse, that I just didn’t apply myself or work hard enough. Ouch.

    I remember being in Algebra class when I was in high school. I was trying to follow along with the new material my teacher was presenting, but I was lost. Utterly, completely and hopelessly lost. Finally, I raised my hand and said, “I’m confused.” The straight A student sitting next to me rolled her eyes and said in a bored, sarcastic voice, “Well, that’s not very hard to do!” I was stunned. The entire class looked at me as my face burned with the knowledge that yes, I am stupid. I have no aptitude for math. I don’t apply myself. I don’t work hard enough. Give up.

       My teacher slowly turned away from the blackboard. He said nothing….he just looked at my classmate for a few moments. Her face turned red and she started to squirm. I don’t think she intended for the entire class to hear her. My teacher looked at me and asked, “Where are you confused?” He then patiently explained the equations to me. Suddenly other hands shot up in the air. Hmmm….it appears that I wasn’t the only one who was confused. But I was the only one who had the courage to admit it.

    Many years later, I decided to go back to school and earn my Master’s Degree in physical therapy. But then I found out I would have to take several math courses including Statistics, College Algebra, and Trigonometry. The old internal monologue and self talk came back loud and clear. I’m not smart enough. I have no aptitude for math. I don’t apply myself. I don’t work hard enough. Give up. The truth is, I almost quit before I even started.

    But then something incredible happened. Somewhere deep in my memory, I saw a young teacher turn away from the chalkboard, give my classmate a blank look, and take the time to explain the material that I didn’t understand. That memory helped change my belief system that I had no aptitude for math. I knew I could at least try. There is no doubt that I would work hard and apply myself. I could start with lower level classes, join a study group, and even hire a tutor if necessary.

    You know what? I never did join a study group or hire a tutor. After the first two weeks of high anxiety and introductory Algebra, I made an amazing discovery. It wasn’t difficult….it was interesting and kind of fun. I was good at it. And I loved it! I was at the top of every class I took, all the way up to Calculus.

   Isn’t it fascinating that such a small gesture could change my belief system and self image? How could I go from being completely inept in a subject to a high achiever without even struggling? Because, in just an instant, my teacher turned what was a hostile, high stress environment into one that was safe, supportive and conducive to learning, without judgment. The intelligence of my nervous system and my own inner wisdom was able to take over and do the rest. This teacher gave me a way to find my confidence, dignity and self respect.

    Honestly, is it ever too late to thank a teacher? I don’t think so, do you?

Be healthy!
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP