Today I had a conversation with Number 3’s math teacher and I broke down crying.

Yep. I was sobbing on the phone over math homework.

And I used to be an elementary school teacher.

But last night was the last straw. Number 3 lost all focus. I lost all patience.

And ultimately, he crumbled up his math homework, threw it in my face, stormed out of the room, and slammed the door.

I’m done with the math homework.

This shit should not happen with a ten-year-old.

The way that math is being taught in elementary school now needs to be changed.

And I’m not saying we don’t try to help kids understand concepts.

I understand why students have to draw models of every single goddamn thing they do in math class.

I get why they have to draw a model to add fractions with unlike denominators. I get why they have to draw a model to subtract decimals.

I know when I was a kid I didn’t really have any idea why I was borrowing from the hundreds column or carrying a one.

That didn’t click for me until much, much later.

So I’m not against kids understanding why they are doing what they are doing. Not at all.

BUT YOU SCHOOLS NEED TO SLOW THE FUCK DOWN.

There is way too much stuff being taught in one year.

Actually, forget one year.

There is way too much stuff being taught in one *week*.

WAY TOO MUCH STUFF.

You want my kid to understand why he is doing what he’s doing?

You want him to understand why the answer for 1/3 + 3/8 is 17/24?

Fine. Then slow down. Give him more than twenty minutes to figure this shit out.

In fact, if he needs it, give him more than a week.

Yeah. A week.

When your kids joins a baseball team for the first time, you don’t give him twenty minutes to learn how to hit the ball, send him home that night, tell him to ask his parents or to watch a video if he needs help, review it one more time a week or two later, and then give him one at bat to measure whether or not he can hit the ball.

You practice that over and over and over.

For a whole season.

And another one.

There is no nurturing of students. There is no time for nurturing.

You just put them up to bat, whip fucking balls at them as hard as you can for one class period, and then the next day, move onto something else.

If the kid can’t hit the ball?

Too bad, kid! You’re fucked!

I listened to my son tell his sister that he was stupid today.

I wanted to run down to his school or to the superintendent or to the state legislators or to wherever and whoever is making these decisions and present them with the homework my son had to do last night.

I guarantee they would not have any idea how to add 1/3 + 3/8 using a model and drawing pictures.

I guaranfuckingtee it.

My son is not stupid.

But the pace at which we are teaching math is.

You don’t throw a ten-year-old up to bat against a grown man who throws the ball at 90 mph.

But that is basically what we are doing to our kids with this fucking math.

And before you start chiming in with the *well my kid gets it and he needs to be challenged*, um, fine.

I’ve got a *challenge* for you.

Have your kid teach my son how to do this shit in 20 minutes.

That will keep your kid plenty challenged.

It will also teach your kid how to be patient and how to communicate effectively which is something we neglect to teach our kids at all in school.

It is not difficult to challenge the kid who gets it.

But it is very difficult to explain to a sobbing ten-year-old (who really is pretty intelligent but who is definitely not ready to go up to bat against a major league pitcher) that he isn’t stupid.

There are only so many times you can strike out before you have no confidence in yourself.

My son has already struck out dozens of times.

And he just wants to quit.

And to be honest, I don’t blame him one bit.

**CLICK HERE TO SUPPORT MY RUN IN THE BOSTON MARATHON**

Caroline says

I think my son was about ten the time I crumpled up his math homework and threw it across the room. Then I picked it up, put it in a back and told him to tell his teacher that I’m the one who crumpled it and we weren’t doing this particular homework. Yeah, math sucks!!

Marie says

I have an 11 year old. He hates getting bad grades. He has had actual panic attacks over this stuff. I am sick of it. And when they change their minds about teaching math this way, what happens to our kids? Ugh.

Anne says

As an old teacher who teaches in a rural area, I ignore the new politically motivated math and teach the way you describe- practice, practice, practice. I teach math all day long in every circumstance I can because I know my second graders are going to fail and hate math in the future. My class is taken away from me 45 minutes every day to do math on computers- time I used to spend with manipulatives, discussion, etc. My son is a CPA who passed the exam on the first try, yet he cannot do the new third grade math drawing problems. Math does not suck – politically correct mah does.

Anne Garland says

I couldn’t have said it better. Spending hours with a tearful 13 year old. New math program this year and they assume kids already learned the steps needed to do this crap. I have to involve the whole family to try and get an answer and then get her to understand. Really will she ever need half this crap they are teaching her. No way.

Rudy says

What is the name of the math program they use to teach math in that school? Ask the teacher if #3 needs to solve math problems the way he I s taught in class or can he do it any way they can as long as he understands how to get the correct answer. Common core is suppose to promote ‘choice’ for students to solve things they way students see it.

I work with 4th graders. Our expectation is that the students can use any method they like (besides the calculator method) so long as they can explain their thinking or show their work. They can use pictures, models, and/or regular equations. I don’t care if a kid can get on base Every time by bunting or dropping one into shallow left field – I’ll bat them first all season.

Melissa rhoads says

I feel your pain. My son brought home some math homework. I didn’t get it so I took it to my work. Not one of the nurses I work with could figure out what they were wanting. One nurse took it home to her engineer husband…he had no clue! I proceeded to call the teacher and was made to feel like an idiot. Well this idiot made it through nursing school with old fashioned math! My son struggles everyday with school work. It’s a battle everyday. All kids learn differently and unfortunately the ones who struggle get left behind. And being made to feel stupid stays with them. Makes me sad!

Alison says

THANK YOU for writing this!!! Why won’t anyone listen to the parents and the kids who are suffering with this way of teaching?!? My kids – ALL OF THEM – are literally dying in school – from 1st grade to 11th grade. The homework is absurd, the volume of homework even more so. I love your analogy with baseball. It is SPOT ON!

Mrs. M says

Try being the teacher who did not learn it this way, but has to teach it this way. Blame the higher up data lovers in the state who have never taught a day in their lives, blame the state testing (that is getting SO much more difficult) and the scores that drive everything, blame those who make the big decisions and think they know the “right” way to do things in the public schools who really have no idea. Kids are stressed, teachers are stressed, parents are stressed. Not good…

Heidi Ferrer says

I agree, Susie! Common Core math is absurd.

Natalie says

I agree. My kids are only 5 and 2 (and one on the way), but I’m petrified of what school is going to do to them. My husband and I both excelled in school, so I hope that passes on, but the new ways of teaching seem idiotic…let’s make basic math so hard adults can’t do it…oh, and that phonics thing, let’s throw that out too. Seriously?? It makes me take a good look at the possibility of home schooling. We live in a “really great” school district, but I’m worried that will just mean they push kids harder and faster.

Breann says

I curse Common Core and Engage NY math daily! I will be physically ill if I have to watch my boys draw one more disc or make another tally mark. Can’t we just multiply, for the love of all that’s good and holy?!?

Jenna says

My son is only 6 right now but I’m dreading the day when he gets into grades above kindergarten and I have to start seeing him deal with the Common Core crap. But for now, it’s shapes and reading basic words and counting.

Erin says

I just adore the hell out of you. I was a struggling student all through school. Number 3 reminds me of myself. My mother wasn’t as understanding as you are, but she did her best. I’ve done well in college, much to my surprise, but yeah, I loathed school, and math in particular, as a kid. In fact, screw math. I still hate math. I’ve done well in college, BECAUSE, I’ve yet to take my required math courses. It’s all just lingering there in the Math Cloud, waiting to destroy my GPA. Love your blog. It’s the only blog I read.

Erin says

Tell Number 3 that he’s a brilliant kid! Math is for some and not for all. It’s just something we’re required to learn. I want to hug him. Poor, kid.

Nicole-K says

I hear ya! Thank you for validating what I’ve been spewing about since my daughter’s 4th grade year. She gets mad when I skip the models and show her how it was done in the 70’s and 80’s. I can’t learn and then re-teach how to do models when I know how simple it is to just multiply 2 double digit numbers together. My other kid needs help with her homework, dinner still needs to be made and I’ve worked all day. I think kids should learn different ways to solve a math problem but be given the option to use the method that works best for them. Most will always chose the “back-in-the-day” method. If it ain’t broke….

Kate says

There is too much being pushed down these kids’ throats at too fast a pace & too young. BUT that is because of law makers & administrators not teachers. If you really care about fixing things then stop calling the teacher & start going to the board of ed. meetings and contacting you city & state representatives. Posts like this only fuel anti-teacher & school feelings That being said, your baseball analogy is great & I hope your son doesn’t give up. Many schools are creating parent meetings/classes to show parents how to help their children. Perhaps you can suggest that at the board meeting.

Sarabeth Smith says

Thank you for promoting using models, using different ways to solve the problems, & providing the student with opportunities to understand why the process works. Most parents just want the child to be shown the traditional algorithms and so what if their kid never understands why it works.

I’m a middle school history teacher that spends a lot of classroom time teaching math because our math teacher won’t slow the fuck down. She is constantly complaining about how the kids don’t complete assignments and have given up. I just smile and nod my head. What I really want to do is ask her how they are supposed to do their homework when they don’t know what the fuck they are doing.

When I have suggested that she slows down, the math teacher claims that if she does they won’t get through the curriculum by year end. Which leaves me with one question for math teachers: What is your goal for the year, is it to present a set amount of curriculum or to actually teach the students? Because you’re nailing the first part and totally fucking up the teaching part. Don’t worry about the students I’ve got you covered, I’ll just keep on re-teaching your math students and we’ll get to this history stuff another day

Joy says

You know, this is all so true.

And one reason why my very smart son is going to be homeschooled for 3rd grade. Lucky for me, I live in a state that makes homeschooling easy, so I don’t have to teach my son that math sucks and you just have to do what they’re asking of you, even when it’s stupid.

I thought school was stupid when I was a kid, because I understood math and science really easily and quickly, so I wanted to move ahead to the shortcuts (I love shortcuts, the simplest equation makes the most sense!). But I was stuck doing long division and other stupid stuff.

I don’t want my kids to get bogged down in stupidity and hate school like I did.

I want my kids to be challenged, have fun, and I want to see the magic of problems making sense for them.

So it’s very possible I will need to homeschool all my kids.

anonymous says

Imagine having a math teacher at 9 in the morning bombard you with math nonstop for an hour every day, so much so that you have to screenshot just to keep up with her.

I deal with it every day

anon says

I’m a high schooler and in geometry, aka “smart math” for my grade level. I completely agree with everything this momma bear said. Math class just goes too fast. You’re screwed if you miss a day or even a few minutes. I feel like giving up. I don’t understand the once or from today, and I was there!

Jennifer says

Wow! Spot on. Today my 2nd grader was in tears again about math. 12-7. 12 minus fucking 7! She can’t do it in her head. They are absolutely making our kids dumb. I gave common core the benefit of the doubt when she started school and boy am I sorry I didn’t teach her the old way to do math… you know, where there’s one freaking answer to a math problem. I loved math in school because there was only one way to do it. Now my 7 year old can’t subtract single digit numbers without drawing circles and crossing stuff out and then adding unrelated numbers… making a TIMED math assignment impossible. Her 4 year old brother can multiply in his head and will continue to be taught that math is not complicated. I have been to my school board too many times to count and still nothing is done. Being a remote learner doesn’t help either. My husband and I are so frustrated at HER frustrations. Math isn’t complicated so stop making it damn near impossible to learn.

Ryan T says

If you want good math education go to Catholic schools because the way they teach math is the correct way they take there time and make sure everyone is comfortable to do it while public schools do this weird math and public schools say hey we learning about this math, 1 or 2 weeks later OK quiz on this stuff while Catholic school takes like a month to do a math quiz, you want your kids educated, go to Saint Catholics there teaching is the best.

not your average mom says

Maybe in math but they seem to have dropped the ball in grammar.

Owen Mann says

I am a kid in middle school and I am about sick and tired of this math, my parents barely understand this and I’ll have to go to my sister for help but half the time she doesn’t understand either. I’ll tell everyone this, do not put your kid in an advanced math class because i absolutely hate it, the math they are teaching barely makes sense and also when am I gonna use x/2 = 5/3 – 2 1/2, they need to teach more stuff that actually will help you in life, like how to pay bills and stuff and scrap economics and just make it a portion of math.

TheSpokesPerson says

Thank you so much for writing this very realistic article. As someone who was once a child in math, I cannot express how valuable it is for educators to try to get students to understand the material, and how, so out of touch the boards are. A lot of us are learning skills that we won’t even need for everyday life, or even preferred degrees in upper-education.

Rushing anyone to learn a new subject is asinine and should not be allowed. These are children trying to learn in school, not kids being sent off to a Bootcamp in the military.

The one major problem I see in math is what I call the “Knowledge Gap”. As your article touched, how is showing someone something completely new they never saw for 10 minutes, send it as a homework assignment, expect parents who graduated highschool in the 70’s and 80’s to understand it, and then never touch upon the topic again until 2 weeks later for 15 minutes, then test the student.

No wonder why there is such a detest towards math! It is literally being pushed up against the student to know, and if they don’t, they are felt feeling stupid! This is setting up children for problems later on in life besides self-esteem. These rush methods are literally leaving people with either a shaky or poor foundation in math which they are lead to believe they’ll never understand.

The entire purpose of school is to send kids there so that the teachers can teach them the material, not the parent! Many parents are inadequate to keep up with what’s needed to pass the classes besides the most basic and easiest things. The problem is, too many parents depend on these educational institutes to do teaching. The reality, many of them cut corners!

As someone who suffered the math dilemma, it was mainly because of how it was presented or taught. In the 90s, to get tutoring help for a subject as a child meant you were too stupid to understand it. Also, MANY teachers discouraged kids from asking questions to clarify the material in class because they would always throw “You should already know this” in their faces while rushing along for the next class. They still do this to us as adults in college! I remember as a small little girl how my math teachers did not care if I understood math or not. I was just pushed along, and made to feel stupid if I didn’t understand something. There was several times I would raise my hand in class only to be ignored by the teacher, while jimmy, the so called “bright” student answered the questions and the teacher was pleased!

The combination of poor teaching, plus rushed material pounded on top of other material from classes is the reason why students struggle with math. They struggle not because someone is wrong with them mental-wise with processing formulas, its because it is often rushed, coupled with this mindset of “Sink or Swim” that I’ve seen so many educators have that it’s terrible. Kids have literally processed down a line where the other kids who are “smart”, aka the kids who have gotten the private tutoring to pass the classes, are uplifted while the kids who haven’t gotten that privilege, are thrown into the fire. I was one of those children, and now as an adult, I see what happened. Those children had an unfair advantage that I never got as a child, because my parents relied too much on the public school system to teach me everything!

While every student won’t pass the 1st time, their chances of passing at all are significantly lowered because of what is mentioned above. Math is also a very unforgivable subject. One step off and the entire result is wrong. Many also teach it to teach it the way they “were taught” which is very asine, multiple steps involved to get to the solution, when another approach can be used which is much faster and gets to the point, not 900 steps involved just to get to the answer. No wonder why so many students forget how to get the solution, it’s long, it’s drawn out, and many math teachers are very phobic about using calculators. To students that can’t add up large numbers quickly in their head, because again, they were not given the chance to be taught properly, this becomes a hinder.

What kids are facing in public schools right now is just as bad in college. These poor rush methods haven’t left. But unlike school, college is costly with GPA, Grades, and Money on the line with the SAME exact problems!

I’m glad someone finally spoke up about this instead of going along with the Sink and Swim CRAP!

Kat says

I know that this is over seven years old, but I want to comment anyway. I was showing my son how to do a problem and he found it so easy. I then looked at the way he was being shown. They want kids to do math using the most steps, so, the most difficult way possible. I want you to know that he is 18, has already graduated and is going back through all of this math again from a few years back. Obviously, math was not his subject. I really enjoyed your analogy. My question is, why can’t they just learn the old fashioned way. The easiest way.