The True Story Behind Why I Decided to Specialize in Math
The reason why I decided to specialize in math is about more than just choosing a favorite subject.
I do a lot with math right now.
I’m a tutor, math learning coach, and educational resource designer – on top of being a 4th grade teacher.
And as much as I love math now, I didn’t always.
Just two years ago, math was far from a topic I enjoyed teaching.
This is pretty embarrassing to say as a teacher – but I’m sharing my story because I know this is true for at least one other person out there.
I legit didn’t know how to do long division.
I was 30 years old, crying in my classroom – because I had to teach 24 5th graders how to do long division with the standard algorithm.
And I had no clue how to do it myself.
How did I get this far without it, you may ask?
Well, I have a sparkling personality, a way with words, a natural gift for making money. 🙃
I also over-compensated. I went ALL IN with reading, writing, and social studies.
I incorporated authentic learning opportunities, project-based learning, and chances for students to experience the material in genuine ways.
I worked hard to ensure my classroom was consistently warm. Inviting. Collaborative.
And basically any other “insert-education-buzzword-adjective-here.”
Why I Decided to Specialize in Math
Bu that still doesn’t quite answer the question, does it?
It still doesn’t quite explain why I decided to specialize in math. since it was something that didn’t come naturally to me.
And yet, my past struggles are EXACTLY why I chose math.
I knew I couldn’t be alone.
I knew there had to be other upper-elementary teachers out there, like me – who loved the kids, knew they could be great teachers, and worked hard – even though they sucked at math.
My Math Struggles
I survived with math for as long as I did, because I knew my way around a calculator. 😉
(fellow millennial teachers – remember when our teachers told us people would never walk around with calculators in our pocket? Loooooool they had no idea.)
I was SO embarrassed about my inability to do math, that I didn’t dare ask my mentor teacher for any help or support when it came to math instruction.
Because then, I’d have to admit that I had no idea what I was doing.
I felt like a total fraud.@mathwithminis
Impostor Syndrome Isn’t Just for First-Year Teachers
I felt like an absolute fraud.
“How could I be an elementary teacher if I can’t do basic math on my own?”
“How can I even BEGIN to teach some of these standards, when I’m not confident that I can even do them myself??”
(tbh, I still have no idea how I passed the math subject matter test – it was an act of God)
I really struggled with the content for my first two years of a teacher.
Being a new teacher is always hard, sure. But add the stressor of not feeling competent (on top of actually NOT BEING COMPETENT), and you have a surefire recipe for daily dread and anxiety.
In 5th grade, students master long division, multi-digit multiplication, and all kinds of skills when it comes to base ten operations.
Needless to say, I struggled.
And it wasn’t for a lack of trying.
In addition to the actual lesson prep I was doing each day, I spent a ton of extra time practicing the problems on my own, making sure I didn’t mess up a ton for the practice problems I’d be leading the following day.
How I Caught a Break
In the spring of 2019, I found out that I would be teaching 4th grade the following year.
To my surprise and delight, I would only be teaching ELA, writing, and social studies.
I could have burst into happy tears right then and there.
And yet, that summer, I watched countless hours of math instructional videos.
Why would I do that if I was going to teach ELA, you might be wondering?
Well, the short answer is, EXTREME ANXIETY.
I was so scared that I would have to sub for a math class, or go back into a general education classroom, that I needed to be prepared.
I always thought that language and writing were the ONLY subjects I could do well – but I realized, it was all about my mindset.
I grew to excel in those other areas because I chose to devote time and energy to them. And I knew that, if I could just be humble and honest with where I was, I could do the same with math, too.
So I did.
I Developed a Growth Mindset for Math
So much of growth mindset is just realizing that your reality isn’t fixed.
Don’t like an aspect of yourself? Change it.
Have a habit you don’t want to keep anymore? Drop it.
Want to be the kind of person who works out every day? Do it.
SO much of mastery and proficiency really comes down to us just deciding that we’re going to do it.
And we don’t just decide those things once.
We have to make that decision every day.
And that is exactly what I did.
I made the decision that I would not only learn math, but that I would master it.
It was no longer good enough for me to survive it. I wanted to thrive with it.
I wanted that for my students, too.
To me, it wasn’t acceptable to give my students a mediocre, or – dare I say – subpar teacher. They deserved the best, so I decided I would be the best for my students.
THIS is why I decided to specialize in math.
I Strengthened My Math Muscles
That summer, I became the most self-directed math student ever (between a few epic road trips to national parks).
I played student math games.
I binged math teacher blogs.
(By the way – if that’s where you’re at right now – if you’re a teacher absolutely struggling with math and you’re completely lost, don’t feel bad watching those videos!! Do WHATEVER you need to do to get to where you want and need to be)
I made little bets with myself when math came up in life – like when I was traveling, converting money and so on.
And you know what? It worked.
All of these concepts started to make sense.
I wasn’t just learning the skills themselves, but I was understanding the theory – because I was actively looking to make connections between math and my everyday life.
I made it fun for myself.
I involved my sisters when we were estimated the total for our gas fill-ups, restaurant bills, grocery store hauls, you name it.
How We Think Of Math
I realized that how I was thinking of math set me up for failure, too.
I’ll talk about math trauma, anxiety and triggers in a future post.
But for now, suffice it to say that math isn’t just some abstract subject we come to hate as elementary students.
Or at least, it shouldn’t be.
It’s all around us!
Math’s actually pretty magical when you think about it. ✨🦄@mathwithminis
I Became a Mathematician
A large part of mindset is embodying who you truly are, want to be, and what you want to become.
If you’re learning science, you become a scientist.
If you want to improve your writing, become a writer.
So, it only made sense to learn and practice the skills used by mathematicians.
By doing this, I realized I was actually living out the core math practices taught with common core math in K-12 students.
I kept learning. Practicing. Devouring every article I could (I still do; I’m hooked!!).
I learned more effective and accessible ways to TEACH math. This was especially important to me, as I always work with English language learners.
I’m not saying I was completely illiterate when it came to math, because that isn’t true.
But I always found it stressful and anxiety-inducing – which created a total mindset block that prevented me from doing what I needed to do to learn it.
You Can Totally Do This.
And YOU Are Why I Decided to Specialize in Math.
I love helping students excel academically so they can go after their dreams. Helping them achieve math fluency and memorize their math facts are ways I get to contribute to taht.
But there’s more to why I decided to specialize in math.
It’s not JUST for the students; it’s for the teachers, too.
As an adult (and especially as a teacher), it’s so hard to deal with these things.
You feel like you can’t talk with anyone about it because, who else would get it??
Well, if that’s where you’re at, teacher.
I get it.
And I’m glad you’re here – because now you know for sure that you are not alone.
Math is hard for so many teachers – not only in instruction, but in personal understanding.
I’m on a mission to make math more fun – for 3rd-5th grade students, and their teachers.
By finding little ways to make it sweeter, math can become something you love to use and explore – instead of something constantly looming over your head.
Let’s help you AND your students, become more math fluent.
❤ Other Posts You Might Like ❤
This post definitely shares my story, and why I decided to specialize in math when it comes to my teacher blog and TeachersPayTeachers store.
But if you’d like to learn more about me, or to learn how we can work together, you can learn more about here.If it did, I would so appreciate you passing it on to another teacher who needs to hear this.
❤ Share The Love ❤
I hope this blog post inspired or comforted you today. 🥰
If it did, I would so appreciate you passing it on to another teacher who needs to hear this.
Feel free to do that using one of the social sharing keys below – or, feel free to share this image on your favorite related Pinterest board.