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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Standing In Your Truth

During my life, most especially during the school years, to say I struggled with math would be an understatement. No one in my family could help me with my math homework, least of all my Dad. My Ma would give the excuse that Dad simply didn't understand the 'new' math, as it was then presented in the 1960's, and she suggested not to even discuss it with him because it made him upset. What I realized much later was that he just felt bad that he couldn't help me, and was embarrassed by the fact. It wasn't until a kind, 6th grade teacher, Sister Carol, took me aside and gave me individual mini-lessons in math, teaching me differently than anyone prior to her, that I could finally somewhat pass my math tests and quizzes. And it was not again until 9th grade algebra, did I have an equally patient teacher, Sister Justitia, who was able to teach me in a way that made math not seem quite so daunting, enabling me to finish with an 'A' in the class. Alas, that was the last instructor I encountered who was able to help me with math. Tenth grade geometry was a huge bust. And let's not even talk about any math classes after that.

I couldn't understand why I could not do math equations at all in my head. No instructor whatsoever seemed to question this issue. I was never tested for anything. I hid that I used my fingers to count as best as I could. Let's face I grew into an adult, I hid that I still had to use my fingers to count and to this day I cannot add, subtract, multiply, nor divide in my head pretty much at all...and I cannot compute equations on paper too well, either!

Both of our sons had difficulty with math, but it wasn't until my youngest son was extensively tested did we find out he had a MATH LEARNING DISABILITY. Everything that my son had difficulty with regarding math, I did so, as well. And like my Dad, I felt useless and ashamed at not being able to help our sons in math. (BTW, Chris isn't all that great at math, either!) But after our youngest son was diagnosed, it finally dawned on me that I, too, had a MATH LEARNING DISABILITY. What was so liberating was learning that my struggle had a name. Nothing to be ashamed of. Nothing to have to hide anymore. I didn't have to be embarrassed that math was difficult for me ever again. I was out of the closet in no time, telling people if need be about my math disability, and I've never looked back. And once I learned this, I was able to empower others to stand in their truth, including our sons. As they say, the buck stops here...well, let's also say the shame stops here.

Recently, as a substitute teacher, I encountered a child with whom I was required to work one-on-one with in math. My employers know I have a math disability, so they do not put me in regular math classes to work with students. But, in this case, the situation was where a student came to the special education room, where I was working that day, and it just happened to be math he was to work on for a bit. Imagine...ME being asked to help someone in math! As with everything, I believe it was no mistake that it was me who was to work with this child, albeit for only a half hour of his life. This child was in middle school, and yet was struggling with elementary math. Boy, could I relate. Instead of trying to hide my own math disability from him, I took a moment to share that I understood what he was going through. I explained how I had coped all the 30+ years I was a fiber artist, tackling math as a spinning, dyeing, and knitting practitioner and instructor...after all, math is in everything, one way or the other... I explained to this child how I often approached mathematical tasks in 'other' ways than what is generally taught in school. I explained how, to this day, I am not ashamed to ask math-whiz friends for help with equations, if need be, after I have explained to them what I was aiming to accomplish. I told him I actually wrote a book on the fiber arts, and there was plenty of math tucked inside the pages! I told him that if I could do it, anyone could!!! I encouraged this child so that he, too, would not only be able to cope in this math-minded world, but that he would figure out ways to succeed at whatever it was he set his mind to. I saw how he had his 'counting' fingers below the table as he was working on division problems. I let him know that I, too, still use my fingers to count and wasn't ashamed to tell him so. We smiled knowingly to each other. We stood in our truth, knowing we were much more than beings who were math-challenged. MUCH MORE.

I believe my math disability has helped me over the years to be a better teacher. After having two math instructors who took the time and were able to get through to me, I realized that there's more than one way to tackle problems than just what's considered the norm. As a teacher, I feel it's up to me to try to explain whatever it is that I'm teaching in a way that folks will understand. Yes, this is a challenge for a teacher, but so worth it in the end when you see the smile on the face of someone who successfully understands and accomplishes what they're aiming for.


  1. Wonderful, Jenny! I so enjoy reading your blogs with all your brilliant and loving insight folded within!

  2. You're a sweetheart of a woman, Heather! Thank you for taking the time to read and respond to my blog posts.