The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery. -Mark van Doren

I’ve been attending college on and off for the last ten years or so. I have worked really hard, and am very proud of what I’ve achieved as a student while also working full time and being an “older learner.” (That phrase just makes me laugh.)

I have one required class remaining; my choice of four Math classes. I’m actually looking forward to Math in Society, a concepts class about the role of mathematics in everyday life. Unfortunately, though, a College Algebra placement exam is required before registering – even though Math in Society has almost no Algebra in it. Sigh. I did not pass the exam. After all, it’s been forty years since I last sat in an Algebra class. So, before I can register for that last class, I have to complete “Academic Support Math” a.k.a., remedial math.

I think I was overwhelmed from the first moments of the first class. It’s approached as a refresher class. A formula is presented, one or two examples are reviewed and then we move on to the next formula. The other students are less than ten years removed from high school. A refresher works for them. I needed more; I needed to be taught. Five sessions in, we took our first quiz. I got five out of five wrong.

Enter my tutor, Nichole.

She is a senior majoring in Math, hoping to teach middle school students.

We’ve met twice, so far. During our first meeting Sunday morning, she calmed my fears, bolstered my confidence and reassured me that I could do Algebra. She refreshed me on the basics I had forgotten over the years and then showed – no, taught – me how to take those basics and apply them to my homework. In preparation for my first test, she spent three hours with me Tuesday evening. We reviewed every single formula that was going to be on the test. We wrote down examples and worked each one out step by step so I could review it at home. She patiently waited while I thought, wrote, erased, thought and wrote more. She asked questions, drew diagrams, cracked jokes, explained mathematical operations, gently corrected errors and applauded success.

Today, I am thankful for inspirational teachers.

I’ve spent five hours with Nichole and her impact is already evident. There were eleven problems on last night’s test. I am extraordinarily confident that I did eight of them corrrectly (I checked my solution back into the formula and it worked!) . Two others I’m about 60/40 confident in my solution. The last one, not so much. But, I did exactly what Nichole told me to do. I wrote down everything I thought related to the problem; hopefully, I’ll at least get partial credit.

Our last ten minutes Sunday night was a pep talk.

“You can DO this girlfriend! I want you to walk into that classroom, sit down and tell yourself, ‘Dammit, I may not know everything, but I know something!’ If you get to a problem that you don’t know how to work, do a big old brain dump. Write down everything you can think of that might relate. You are bound to hit on something that will either help you solve it, or the professor will give you partial credit for at least being on the right track. You’ve come so far in just the short time I’ve known you. I know you’ve got this. BAM!”

Nichole will be a fantastic middle school math teacher.

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