Sunday, February 16, 2014

Middle-School Math and Purpose


Goals are dreams with deadlines.

Diana Scharf Hunt

“Some of the world's greatest feats were accomplished by people not smart enough to know they were impossible.”
Doug Larson

“I am looking for a lot of men who have an infinite capacity to not know what can't be done.”
Henry Ford

It just occurred to me I haven’t written a blog yet today.  I haven’t been lax.  I’ve been working on different things that need my attention and I feel like I’ve been productive.  The trick is to go to bed at night feeling like I’ve used my time well.  I have a new job that starts in two days and I’m nervous about doing well.  I’ll be teaching middle-school math for students who are struggling.
Middle school, or junior high as it was called in my day, can be a hard time.  Kids get surly and confused and overwhelmed.  These are the years many of them deal with bodily changes and emotional changes.  My year in the 7th grade was truly one of the worst of my life.  A lot, almost all of it really, had to do with my study habits or lack of them. 
Maybe, just maybe, I can make a difference in these kids’ lives.  Maybe I can help them avoid the pain and the fear and the stress that I had at that age.   Wouldn’t it be great if I could help these kids succeed?  Wouldn’t it be great if they felt better about themselves and about math?  Wouldn’t it be great if I could show them that success was possible?  Wouldn’t it be great if their horizons expanded?  
It’s no different at that age than it is at any other age.  What these kids need is to succeed and what they need to succeed is to take action.  They have to do what everyone has to do in order to be successful – they have to take action.  
How did these kids get to this point?  Perhaps they were lazy or afraid or didn’t understand.  Perhaps they have learning disabilities or a bad relationship with their math teachers.  Perhaps they’re dealing with physical or sexual abuse or drug abuse or gangs.  I don’t know why.  On top of it all, I only have about a month with them.  Can I make a difference in a month?  What about my own issues and my own inability to stay focused?  Can I do this?
Honestly, I don’t know.  But here’s what will help:
·      Have a goal for these kids, a goal that is difficult, but not overwhelming. 
·      Keep that goal in front of them and in front of me the whole time I am there.

What is my goal?  It’s a crazy one, but here’s what I want:
I want these kids to get A’s and B’s in math.

In Do the Work, Steven Pressfield says one of the rules is to stay stupid.  In other words, don’t consider how impossible or unlikely the goal is.  Don’t even consider it.  “Just act as if it were impossible to fail,” says Dorthea Brande. 
Why is this goal impossible?
·      I would have to generate interest where there was none. 
·      I have only a month.
·      I have to deal with students who might already feel angry, embarrassed, ashamed or apathetic.
·      I may have to deal with teachers who don’t want me doing this because it violates a union rule.

So what do I do?
I keep my eye on my goal.  I like impossible goals, because they really aren’t impossible.  Ask anyone who's reached an impossible goal.  There are so many examples of people who were told things couldn’t be done.  Edison tried to create the light bulb 10,000 times.  The Beatles were told the public would never accept their music.  John Kennedy and Barrack Obama had to fight against the prejudices of their day.  Nobody could run a 4-minute mile until Roger Bannister did it in1954.  Then two months later two other runners did it.  It’s been done repeatedly since then.
So can I, against all odds, help these kids?
My biggest obstacle isn’t any of the ones listed above.  My biggest obstacle is myself.  That’s the real battle.  Can I concentrate?  Can I stay focused?  Can I ignore less important things?  Can I not allow self-sabotage?  I think those are the questions everyone who has a purpose must ask.  The only answer is yes if I want to Get Started and Keep Going…and teach math.