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Stay In Your Lane [A Math Teacher’s Lament]

Jose Vilson Mr. Vilson 4 Comments

Why do people stigmatize math teachers?

It’s bad enough we teach people that they’re either math people or they’re not (patent lie, I promise you). Now, we’re even limiting math teachers to the fields in which they can excel. They stereotype (!) math teachers as having hobbies like playing piano (fractions!) and read xkcd (might be true), but God forbid they actually know how to do things like write (without patterns involved) or read books (not by Einstein, Hawking, or any other mad genius).

I’m not sure where the stigma comes from, but the way we want students to see common threads in our topics is akin to what I’d love our teachers to see about each other. Not in the bullshit Kumbaya, top-down-education-management sort of way that cites some research I never even heard of and tries to force-feed collaboration down our throats. More in the, it’s-OK-to-actually-have-an-affinity-for-seemingly-unrelated-topics-and-we-won’t-slap-you-on-the-wrist-for-it sort of way.

Can a student hate science but love math? Yes. Can a student hate English but love social studies. Absolutely. Can we be OK with that? Yes.

Also, can people stop pelting the math coach (me) with literacy-heavy talk when they hear about word problems? Is that the only way we’re going to get these subjects to be related? How about the relationship between the symmetry of people’s handwriting and the grades we assign to them regardless of subject? What about the idea that proving something is the answer is all a matter of finding the main idea in the numbers and presenting the argument line after line?

Why does the math teacher have to say that?

Why do I have to be the bad guy? Can I just put my head down when everyone’s talking about how to read and write when I’m discerning the relationship between speech patterns and syllables used per phrase? Can I run away when people tell me that they’re only “science” people or “social studies” people? How many people do I have to throw out a window along with their ideas about how unimportant math is when they’re using it every day both consciously and unconsciously?

Furthermore, should I even be ranting on a blog? Isn’t that considered writing? And if so, when I hit “publish,” does that in fact make me a published writer once again? Am I just a writer with an itch for math or a mathematician with this writing sickness?

Why not both?

Jose, who only knows ten digits of pi …

About Jose Vilson

José Luis Vilson is a math educator, blogger, speaker, and activist. For more of my writing, buy my book This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education, on sale now.

Comments 4

  1. Kimberly

    Hear, hear, I get it. Try being a person who excelled at drama and language arts and created a early learning math program…math is in everything, nothing is separate.

  2. kp

    Well. Not all math teachers are as literate as thou, Jose. It also irks that in my state math teachers will be evaluated on math scores and the rest of us are all evaluated on reading. It is just another wedge between the subjects. They (math teachers) are all gung-ho to show how well they can teach, while the rest of us are just so what–it’s bogus for us. Thanks for listening to MY rant.

  3. pissedoffteacher

    I agree completely. Years ago I wrote long, funny letters to a friend’s dying husband and I always shared them with her first. The English teacher mentor looked at me and said, “wow, a math teacher who can write.” I looked at her and said I can also tie my own shoes and walk and talk at the same time. She shut up fast and avoided me for weeks.

  4. Keishla

    Social Studies teacher laments…At least STEM is on the table. In a world that is ever globalizing, World History has to fight for space and a voice. All that is not science, math, or reading is pushed aside…as if science, math and reading have nothing to do with historical forces. I long for a RENAISSANCE in education when a true Renaissance Man/Woman figure is what is valued. It takes an understanding of multifaceted approach to handle the quandary we are in. Let’s be “multi-lane” drivers.

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