- ...the old one? did you have him? He was f-ing horrible.
- I heard so.
- yeah cuz he gave us these difficult problems and no one got them and one time I was working on a different problem and he asked if I could do the one on the board and I said no and then he said, like in front of the whole class, "oh that means you have a lot to revise!".
- but you know then we had a different teacher and she was awesome! if someone didn't get something she was like "OK let's do this again!" and she explained it and was really patient. It was great.
- yeah there are so few teachers like that, who can get contact with their students, no wonder at the end of high school everyone is so tired of studying.
Overhearing this exchange was really awesome for me, because it gets right to what I've been most concerned with all year: the differences in what students want, and what I want.
Because what these students are saying, what I think most of my weaker math-students would say if I asked them, is that teachers that give a lot of help, teachers who guide students through problems, teachers who make mathematics simple, are the good teachers. Teachers who give challenges, and then expect students to stick with the problem until they solve it, are the bad teachers.
Meanwhile, what I want is to engage students in thinking, to show them that they can do math more or less on their own, form their own conjectures and prove them, too. I hope that this way math comes alive and students develop interest and confidence as well as understanding and skill.
This is nothing new, and part of the invisible contract which Ben Blum-Smith wrote about beautifully in this post a year ago. But I do wonder about the effects of this discrepancy in teacher and student attitudes.
Could it be that these students are right? That, for them at least, and at this late stage in their relationship with mathematics, it is better to provide a crazy amount of scaffolding and to sacrifice ideals of creativity, fun and even deeper understanding for the benefit of getting the students to feel confident and safe in math class.
This has been my main question this year and I still don't know how to answer it.