We have experiences that help us grow and experiences that weigh us down. The latter is baggage and all of us have it. That’s part of life.
On July 16th, I went on a field trip with my CTY Program Manager, who took an instructor (who happens to be a friend I made there) to the airport. He shared that while he was a grad student, he taught an advanced math course and didn’t expect college students to have problems with fractions. This prompted me to share a story about a former student.
It wasn’t that long ago that I was privileged when a former student shared with me that they believed that they were dumb because they didn’t understand math. They got stuck on a concept in math class and they couldn’t move on. They sought help from their math teacher, friends, and videos, but none of those resources did the trick. Because their math teacher understood math (that’s why the teacher teaches math) and their friends understood math (that’s why they were passing the class), but my former student didn’t understand math, that is why my former student believed that they were dumb, and they got stuck in math ever since.
I reassured my former student that they weren’t dumb. All of us learn differently, and our brains receive information differently. It was because their teacher, friends, and videos were teaching that particular concept ways that didn’t fit with how their brain received information. I explained it like a puzzle piece. Sometimes you have a puzzle piece that can fit two pieces or three pieces. But sometimes, you have a rare puzzle piece that can only fit one piece, where they only learn this concept in this particular way. This happens to everyone for different things and concepts. It doesn’t make the student dumb; it makes them human.
I also added that in math, concepts build on each other. Once their teacher moved on, it was expectedly difficult for the student to overcome getting unstuck and catching up. Before they knew it, they were so far behind that they believed that they were dumb.
I think I cracked the wall, and this student got more out of SAT Prep than all of my other students. After class, I realized that sometimes you have to unpack and undo the baggage that students carry before you can teach them something new. Some students carry their baggage for a really long time before someone comes along and helps them unpack, undo, and move on. If you’re one of those people who can help, I certainly hope you do.