warm and fuzzy student things

One of the joys of my job is that I get to remove math phobia from students.  I teach a required math course for social science majors, many of whom come from backgrounds that are not math heavy.  Often this is the first math course they’ve taken since high school.  Many of them think they’re just not good at math.  I spend a lot of time filling in gaps of their knowledge, even doing silly things like going over every step of simplifying a fraction or solving for X, you know, just in case.  (I do this because my Calc 1 instructor SUCKED and I learned almost all of Calc 1 while taking Calc 2 from a different professor at the local university because he would go through every single step of what I’d missed whenever we needed to know it.)  I do extra tutoring in office hours.  I constantly push the growth mindset on students.

From about midterms to getting final grades, my students start to realize that hey, maybe they’re not so bad at math after all.  This week has been especially warm and fuzzy with students popping by during office hours to confide in me that they’re actually “getting” the class, something they thought impossible. (Last week they discovered and informed me that they’re several weeks ahead of the other section and have had much more difficult homework assignments– this has become a point of pride with them.)

Lots of students mentioned in office hours that it’s all coming together on this week’s homework.

One gentleman told me that his entire life he’s taken the easy way out, doing things that maximize how impressive they sound while minimizing actual need for thinking.  This semester he’s taken some (gen-ed fulfilling) classes from our department, including mine, and they’ve challenged him and he’s risen to the challenge and he’s realized he likes to be challenged.  He came by to tell me he’s changed his major to our department from communications.  He’s actually the second person to tell me this week that (s)he’s switched into our major because my class wasn’t anywhere near as frightening as (s)he had thought it would be, not because it’s easy, but because (s)he can do it.

Another woman stopped by to tell me that she’s always been terrified of math and never thought she’d ever be able to do anything with computers, but she feels really powerful whenever she uses her statistical software on the homework.  She can’t wait to take my (more difficult, semi-elective) class next semester.

A senior stopped me in the hall and told me how surprised she’d been to see that A on her transcript last semester, an A she’d earned in my harder semi-elective.  The stuff she learned has been helping her this semester too.

It’s been a warm and fuzzy week.

Do you have any warm and fuzzy student stories to share?

11 Responses to “warm and fuzzy student things”

  1. A Says:

    Curing someones mathphobia is probably the most rewarding teaching experience for me, too. Although I do tend to get angry at the teachers/the system who/which caused it in the first place.

  2. Moom Says:

    This semester I have a couple of students who told me that they thought they might fail this exam/class but actually when they realised that they’re doing OK they are much happier. OTOH I have a couple failing who aren’t asking for help or anything. I think that’s the way it goes.

  3. Liz Says:

    Those are awesome warm and fuzzies! I’m not a teacher, but back when I was one (briefly) I was also the JV girl’s volleyball assistant coach. I ran all the conditioning and warm-ups – the basic physical exercises to get in shape to do the actual sport. One girl, bless her, was in terrible shape so I had to constantly modify the exercises (especially pushups) for her throughout the season. It was a battle, but at the end of the season she came up to me with a huge smile on her face and said, “I’m going to work all year so next season I will be able to do the full pushups with everybody.” She had seen the value in appreciating her body for what it was, and also saw the great potential in it. That was the most flattering thing anyone has ever said in recognition of my effort.

  4. Sapience Says:

    Those are amazing warm fuzzies!

    A few of my students asked about the class I’m teaching next semester (it’s a different theme for the same course, so none of them can take it unless they fail my current class, which none of them wants to do). One student asked if she could come sit in because it sounded awesome. Another said, “We got gypped.” A third said he had already tried to persuade his roommate to take my class next semester so that he could vicariously participate (the roommate said the class looked too hard). For perspective, my current class is themed on science fiction and we’ve just finished Ender’s Game (which they love), and next semester is themed on Paradise Lost. The fact that they all liked this class enough to say they’d be happy to take on a seventeenth century epic poem with me means a lot.

  5. Norwegian Forest Cat Says:

    What a great time to reflect on warm fuzzies, since I seem to be on both sides of the phenomenon right now. My advisor told me yesterday that the thing about me that he’s most proud of is teaching me to be fearless about every experiment I do in lab. I think he forgets that it’s really easy to be fearless when you have someone telling you that you can do it–having mentors around who give you their vote of confidence when you’re staring down some serious obstacles is so important!

    And on the other side, I was a tutor for quite a while in college, and helping other students get to the “aha” moment was way more valuable to me than getting paid minimum wage. Even now, paying it forward is one of the most rewarding parts of being an “old” grad student–we have a lot of junior Ph.D. students here and I have a couple of minion undergrads to mentor, and talking them down from the “I’ll never be able to do an experiment that complicated, the crazy Russian lady* in our lab said that experiment is really hard” ledge has become a routine part of my day. Thankfully it’s a fun one!

    *I don’t think most of them are crazy, just this one

  6. chacha1 Says:

    I think you must be a very good teacher. :-)

  7. J Liedl Says:

    Those are wonderful stories.

    Speaking of warm and fuzzy – I just received a letter from our Centre for Academic Excellence. I’m one of the inaugural recipients of the Student Choice Awards at the university. The award name leaves me a little o_O but the letter included a laudatory comment drawn out of a student nomination that really touched my heart. Thank you, unknown student!

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