I met one of my new students and her mother yesterday. The daughter was absolutely giddy about math, talking on and on about her feelings for it and trying to show off her knowledge of fractions. When she walked away from us, I commented to the mother about how impressive I thought her daughter was. (Let’s not lie, I’ve NEVER had an 8th grader literally bounce up and down about the subject of mathematics before.)
The mom took a second to be proud, but then told me that she’s really worried about this year. Sixth grade is getting to the age where other things are going to start to matter too much. She’s afraid for when her daughter starts feeling the pressure of gender roles and starts thinking that fractions might not be the way to impress her crush. She doesn’t want her daughter to stop loving math but doesn’t know how to stop cultural forces, either.
This is new for me. For the last two years, my kids came to me already having decided that math for nerds, and it was my job to try to overcome it. Do I now have the chance to prevent that in the first place?
The one hope the mom saw in this situation was that she viewed me as cool and young. She said that maybe not having the “math nerd” as a teacher might help her daughter stay excited about the subject. This is an interesting new thought for me, because I’ve spent the last two years going out of my way to be the Math Nerd Teacher. I wanted to put some age between my 22-year-old self and my 14-year-old (sometimes 15-year-old!) eighth graders, and I wanted to avoid getting hit on by hormonal boys. But now I’m almost 24 and the kids are about 11, and that age difference is much more substantial. Plus, most sixth grade boys are just figuring out that girls exist, so hopefully they don’t hit on their teachers. Maybe I don’t have to play the frumpy mom anymore? It is endlessly fun to dress like that, but I’m intrigued by the idea that it might help my girls if I toned it down a little bit.