Making Fractions Familiar

On Tuesday afternoon, our Medical Assisting Director came speedwalking into my cube and said, “We need someone to teach Math and you’re the only person free.” He handed me a book, said cover sections 3.3 and 3.4, and briskly walked away.

Stunned doesn’t begin to cover it. I wasn’t shocked to be thrown something my way at the last minute. That is the norm of my job. However, MATH class, just the word, made my palms start to sweat. I fell into a buzzy, panicky feeling and made the long walk to the other building to “teach” Math. I usually teach English courses. I get very excited about the use of a good verb.

As I walked, I flipped to the right page in the book and saw something even worse: fractions. The numbers swirled, and I literally felt dizzy.

I knew one thing for sure. I was about to look like an idiot in front of several people.

I started the class full of adult women by telling them the truth. I was a last minute sub, who made a C in the one college math class I had to take. Bare with me, I asked them.

For the first half of class, I was a mess–fumbling and somewhat manic with nervousness. However, they kind of enjoyed correcting me and showing me the way, and I gained some momentum. By the time we got to adding mixed fractions, I was teaching them. Common denominators and all! It wasn’t very fancy, but I had learned the steps to take.

Three beautiful things happened due to this unexpected challenge:

1. I expanded, maybe exploded, my comfort zone when it comes to math. I relearned my feelings. Numbers were kind of fun! I can’t believe I just said that.

2. Little girls are often told or encouraged to follow subjects like English, while they aren’t encouraged or seen as good at Math. I feel like I’ve been fighting against this conditioning for my entire life. I finally overcame the idea that girls can’t do math because a small part of me believed it was true. This class was all women, all doing math.

3. And this is the best one: I had several students come up to me today and explain how much they learned. Since I was so basic and slow, they finally got it! I was on their level of thinking. The blind leading the blind can work.

It was quite an exciting day. I’m glad I had a jacket on to cover up the sweat!


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