More suffering and success

“It’s not whether they pass or fail, but how much they suffer along the way.”

Its almost time for midterms, and most of my students are feeling the burn.  Only after the fact do students realize that they have made great strides.    One of the truisms of teaching (and learning) math is that everyone struggles with the material at some point.   It takes long hours of struggle and frustration before it becomes easy and natural.

The best students are the ones who are willing to work ahead of the class and push their own limits.   Students who work hard, make mistakes, seek out the material they need and persevere even if they don’t immediately understand are the ones who truly stand out.      Most students will wait for you to push them though, and give them enough work to get a decent understanding.   It’s interesting to me that many of the “smart” students fall in this category – they will do what is indicated, but won’t really go beyond.   I’m more than happy to oblige…  my favorite teachers were sometimes scary as hell.

And then there are the students who don’t try.   Reaching out to these students is necessary – sometimes they just need a little personal attention for them to feel like they can manage.    You’ll be able to get a pretty quick feel for those students who are just discouraged from those who are genuinely apathetic.     Those students who are “too cool for school” or just don’t seem to bother with the work… well I think the best lesson I can teach them is that failure really is an option.

Yep.   There’s that schadenfreude again.

Making mistakes is part of the process.   It says something about a class when they stick with hard material.     Trying to convince students that they are doing alright when they’ve been riding the edge of their comfort zone for a long time can be a tough sell.   That is one reason why I like to pitch some easy material at them from time to time.     Keeping the pace challenging enough to be meaningful and not overwhelming is one of the challenges of being a decent teacher.

Staying on the edge of your comfort zone is good for both students and teachers.

Learning isn’t comfortable… but neither is ignorance.    Which you choose to live with is up to you.

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