A is for Abby

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Mar 04 2011

Frustration (or why I’m afraid I can’t succeed)

When I received my notification back in November, I was given the placement of secondary math.  My first reaction was something along the lines, “Oh, crap.”

I am not a math person.  At all.

Some people in life can do math and just rock the hell out of it.  Other people stare blankly at it and go through the motions and just pray they’re doing it the right way.  I fall into that second category.  All through schoool, I was on the “advanced math track,” but I always towards the bottom of the advanced pack.  Math for me, for lack of a better term, was just plain hard.  At times, miserably hard.  I have no idea how I made it through AP Chem when I was struggling to stay afloat in trig at the same time.

I made my feelings about math teaching math known early on–as in within a few hours of accepting.  I made a very clear and logical argument about why math was not a good placement: I haven’t had math since high school (I didn’t have to take math in college because of my placement scores and ACT score), I don’t use anything beyond basic math in my everyday life, and that I had serious doubts about my ability to pass the secondary math MTTC.

I gave it all a try and studied more then I’ve studied in years, but I wasn’t progressing from the initial practice tests I took.  If anything, I was actually doing worse, since I was stressing beyond belief trying to study for all of my tests and work 40+ hours a week.  At that point, I threw in the towel, to some extent.  I told the regional office I couldn’t do secondary math.  If I was teaching it, I’d probably have the kids leaving doing worse then they were when they started.  So they told I could do elementary math.  Okay, that’s cool.  I understand algebra.

And oh, how was I mistaken.  The elementary math test isn’t that different from the secondary test.  Elementary lacks calculus and trig.  Beyond that, they were incredibly similar.  So despite the fact that I studied an awful lot, I failed the elementary math test.  Failed with an absolutely miserable score.  I did A-OK on the general elementary test and can be placed with that, but I now have to retake elementary math again and things still aren’t clicking.  I’m not trying to be negative or give up on myself, but seriously, how bad do I have to be for people to realize what I already know.

I’m not going to say what my score was because of how embarassingly low it was.  I’m ashamed of it.  I wasn’t even close the the 220 needed to pass.  It would reflect badly on me, my family, my education, and probably cause schools to ask for my degrees back. 

I’ve now been experiencing a constant math anxiety.  I’m already being treated for anxiety; it’s not like my psychiatrist can give me something else just for math.  On top of everything, there’s the fact that just because I pass doesn’t mean I’m capable of teaching math.  Let’s say I manage to hit the elusive 220.  In my mind, that doesn’t mean I should be teaching kids math, especially kids who, statistically speaking, are lagging behind in math.  Like all TFA CMs, I’m afraid of not being good enough.  But I’m also afraid of the distinct reality that I honestly am NOT good enough to teach people math.  I understand the need for math teachers in Detroit.  Trust me, I’ve lived in the Detroit area for most of my life and I know how great the need for math and science teachers is.  But I also know how important it is to have good candidates teaching those areas.  I don’t think I fall into that category.

I’m amazing at the stuff I do.  I know more stuff about social studies and the humanities then most people do.  I can throw out those facts in 20 different ways.  But math?  I can’t say I have that ability.  I can’t just give up because that isn’t an option.  I know the struggles that many of the Detroit CMs have faced and have heard about the situations they’ve been put in.  I don’t want to be in that boat (obviously, no one does). 

This isn’t something that I’ve just come to a conclusion on.  I’ve felt this was since I was about 11.  But now, the stakes are so much higher.

8 Responses

  1. Dee

    I’m so sorry about your frustration. Do you truly want to teach for the long term? If so, I urge you to pursue teaching an alternative way (regular credential or fast track, intern credential) and teach in an area you are comfortable in (elementary or other secondary subject). A regular teaching program will let you explore teaching in different grades to figure out what you like. You don’t have to let TFA dictate what you teach. It is tough to get out there and find a teaching job on your own, but you can do it with some courage and end up happier. I’m also a career changer and in my 4th year teaching elementary school. Good luck.

    • ohabby

      I don’t know if I want to teach in the long term. Do I see myself teaching beyond my 2 year committment? Yes, but I don’t know if it’ll be my true life-long job. I’m in total need of a life change and TFA makes sense with what I want in my life…I’ve been living for nothing and no one but me for the past 5 years. I need a change in my mind set. I need a change in my thought process. I applied for TFA on a whim, but I didn’t make my decision to accept the same way. I saw the world around me falling to pieces and saw people in desperate need of help fixing that. I felt like I can do that.

  2. clb

    Just an encouraging couple of thoughts…

    1) You CAN do this.

    2) KNOWING content and being able to TEACH content are slightly different challenges. Content is always something that can be “re-learned” and unlike during the PRAXIS, when you’re teaching you will have the support of resources (cohorts, leaders, internet, textbooks, etc.)
    You may surprise yourself and be a rockin’ math teacher :-)

    3) If you can get to an education department library on a college campus and they have a selection of math textbooks (that are geared towards elementary students–ya know, the ones with fun pictures, and manipulatives, and such) you might be surprised if you looked in one of them how it boosts your confidence in your ability and could re-teach you concepts in a way that isn’t like the high school/college textbooks (which I hate with a passion). I’m studying for a PRAXIS exam and these kinds of resources have been my best resources thus far.

    You CAN do it!

  3. elsa

    yikes. I’m experiencing the same thing, but on a smaller scale.

  4. Ray

    It’s difficult to understand why TFA continues to try to push you into a math teaching assignment given your clearly expressed lack of interest in teaching math along with your scores on the math test. I would press them for an explanation. It’s not fair to you or your future students to accept a placement in which you have little chance for success. It’s hard to understand why they are doing this. Especially when it seems clear that you could do a great job teaching a different subject.

    • ohabby

      I’ve actually already gotten the explanation why I’m being pushed into math 2 or 3 times now–it’s because the need for math is overwhelming. Social Science/humanities people are a dime a dozen and for the most part, those positions can get filled. Math and science are considered to be the highest need in nearly all regions and with the test results that have been coming out recently, the need for them in Detroit is obvious to a blind man.

      They say they believe I can pass it…I might be able to. It wouldn’t be impossible, but my score has to go up a lot. My concern lies in the fact that even if I pass, what does that mean? Passing doesn’t equate capability. TFA is confident in my ability to teach and at least test-wise, my scores were spot on in the general elementary test, which would allow me to teach any self-contained k-8 class. I aced that test and then some. That does give me confidence in my ability. And TFA isn’t giving up on me either…they are letting me take another subject area test so I can have an additional endorsement on my teaching license.

      Just in life, when I think of candidates to teach math, I don’t picture myself. I’m at the point where I can imagine myself being a teacher and for that matter, being a damn good one. I could even do that with math, to some extent. I just don’t see myself as being successful in that in a traditional manner. Life says I have some math skill–I got a score in the 95th percentile on ACT math, passed AP calc with a score that counted for credit at college, and on that theory, I’m not dumb. I’m the first to admit that I’m my own worst enemy when it comes to math and I know that it’s killing me. I have to get past that. But even then, I do fear my my ability and I think it’s fairly normal.

  5. amandainthemitten

    Good luck on the math test! I wish I had great advice, but I’m currently studying (with not too much confidence) for the exams in April as well. I definitely understand the worries about being an effective teacher in a subject you don’t feel confident in, but I don’t think your ability to pass the test the first time determines that. TFA obviously saw something in you. ;-) While my advice stinks let me know if you want a fellow 2011 Detroit CM to chat with about those exciting tests, etc.

    • ohabby

      I’ll probably be in touch, Amanda. I’m trying to make contact with as many of the incoming CMs as possible because so few of us have actually spent time living in Michigan and understand what the environment here really is like.

      If it’s any solace, the basic skills test is a piece of cake. I’m not sure what your subject area tests are, but good look.

      I’ll shoot you an email sometime soon and we’ll discuss the MTTC and all its glory.

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Viewing Detroit a whole new way

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Middle School
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