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Reading Students

I've been trying to write this post for some time, but the words just weren't coming out of my brain onto the page.  But once I saw this quote on my Facebook feed, I knew that's what I wanted to say.

I was in class the other day and a student asked me "Do you enjoy reading your students?"  I didn't know what he was asking.  I had only heard the term "reading" in the context of understanding someone else.  But apparently the word is also used to mean finding someone's faults and accentuating them.  When I realized this, I felt bad.

I understand why the student asked that, and I understand why he felt that way.  It isn't my goal.  My goal is to have fun and to joke around.  I do make jokes, and I think I'm being funny.  But apparently those jokes aren't taken the same way by my students.  Apparently they really hurt my students.  And that's something I feel bad about.  I didn't realize that I was doing that, and I didn't realize that my students felt like I was reading them--in that sense of the word.

I joke about being a hard-nosed teacher--unrelenting in my policies and even going out of my way to make the test impossible for any student to pass.  But these are just jokes.  In truth, I try to make my tests very representative of the material covered and the material I have informed my students I want them to understand.  I feel that if the average on a test is roughly 70% I have done a decent job at writing a challenging but fair test.

In class, I tease my students.  I feel like it's in good fun, and I was under the impression that they enjoyed it too.  But apparently I have been mistaken.  I've been thinking a lot this semester about my students and about how I can be a better teacher.  I want my students to succeed.  I want them to feel confident about the material, and to feel confident about themselves.  I want them to know that I really do care whether they succeed or fail.  I want to make a genuine effort to assist them in their education, to the full extent of my role as instructor.

I need to be introspective.  I need to examine my own behavior and discern what I should keep and what I should discard.  I need to pay attention to how my students feel and react.  I need to think about what someone else might think before I say something that I personally think is funny.  I want to be a sensitive and compassionate teacher.  I don't want my students thinking that I just want to shame them and expose their ignorance.

I have students who struggle so hard to learn the concepts in class but just can't get it, despite their efforts.  I want them to know that I care about them, and I understand their pain and frustration.  I don't want them to feel like they are stupid and can't do math.  I don't want them to feel shamed and rejected.

So I need to be stronger.  I need to be gentler.  I need to be more understanding of others.  I need to seek out my own flaws and acknowledge them.  I need to be aware of the insecurities of my students, and be sensitive of them.  What I want is students walking away from my classes with a deeper understanding of and appreciation for math.  Not a greater fear or intimidation of math.  I want them to grow and develop their minds, not shut them down and hide.

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