Sunday, September 20, 2015

When am I ever going to use this stuff.


"When am I ever going to use this in real life?"

When I started my short teaching career, I was prepared for this question when a student would ask.  I had all kinds of examples.

I slowly realized that I was not giving the students what they wanted.  What they wanted was an excuse not to learn the lesson of the day - or for the whole term or the whole year.

It is interesting to note that I don't recall any of my English teachers being asked as similar question about Shakespeare or Moby Dick.

I never remember any similar complaint to the Art teachers or Music teachers.  Or Physics and Chemistry teachers.  Or History teachers.  Or even Gym teachers.

Why is Math the only class where this question comes up?

I agree that not all math is interesting and entertaining, but for me a lot of math is.  Studies have shown that students who do well in their math classes are more likely to be successful in college.  When I taught college classes I was especially disappointed to see a student have to change majors because they could not handle the math in their preferred major (engineering, electronics, computer science, etc.)  These majors often lead to good jobs, well paying jobs!  I'm not putting down other majors.  If your dream is to study history or literature or philosophy GO FOR IT.  What I hate is to a student have to give up their dream to become an engineer (or other profession) because they could not handle the math.

Then one day I hit the wall - and realized that I needed to find a new profession.  I had a student ask me that foul question one to many times.  And I told him "Bob, that's a good question.  You will never use any of this in real life.  I know you will never use it, because you have decided not to learn it.  If you don't learn it its impossible to ever use it.  Bob, I do have other students who want to learn it so they can do well in college and get good jobs - so please let me go back to teaching them so they can use math in real life and so that they will be able to success in their desired professions.  Thanks Bob."

I still teach from time to time.  I try not to get discouraged about the 10 or 20 percent of students who try to get through my class with the least amount of effort possible.  I try to keep hope alive for the majority of students who do want to learn and are putting forth a good effort.

Those of you who are still actively teaching math - well I keep you in my prayers all the time.  It's a tough job, and your work produces some good results.  You don't get a thank you or a pat on the back often enough.


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