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Wednesday, June 20, 2007


My sister is a teacher finishing up her degree and is running this survey. She needs a large number of participants in order for it to be used so if you have a minute, will you please take part? It's anonymous, of course, and I know everyone's busy, but I'd appreciate it if you could help her out with this.

Here's the link:



  1. I took the survey. If you could possibly pass on some advice to her, there was one question that was difficult to answer. It asked if I had a female math teacher. All of my math teachers in every grade were female. However, in asking about teaching skills it simply asked about "your female teacher". Some of my teachers had poor skills and some did not, so that made the question difficult to answer.

  2. (re: one of the survey questions)
    For me, math was excruciating (and mortifying) from Grade 1 up through Alg II, then interesting in Geometry, easier in Trig and finally entertaining and satisfying in Calculus. I don't believe it's unusual to 'bloom' late in math--I think I remember other students saying that they, too, completely flunked every 3rd grade timed test. It wasn't until math tests became really, really long proofs (in Trig/Calc) that a perenially underprepared student--um, like me--could, during a math test for which she hadn't memorized the material as well as she'd thought, or at all, find enough wiggle room to puzzle out or improvise or wildly guess the missing steps. What a massive relief to escape those tortuous, baffling first 10 yrs of arithmetic and to find on the other side Trigonometry and Calculus, where the big picture matters and tells you what to do next.

    About male v. female teachers--
    Through my whole math career, I was a terrible student. I had no idea which direction was up, but if I'd only stopped talking long enough to pay a little attention, I would've made the lives of my teachers a lot less tedious. How did they tolerate me, or at least so completely conceal their irritation? My high school math teachers were all male, socially awkward, even-tempered, kind and endlessly tolerant. I got the feeling that they were very patiently trying to 'share' something (the kabbalistic treasure of math?) with me, coaxing me along until I could imagine what the equations might be describing and why I should care. Without math teachers with this temperment, I wouldn't have made it past Alg 2. That's the honest truth. I would've gratefully retreated to 'consumer math' or whatever that class is now called. They showed me how to be good at the subject I felt worst about. I credit them with drastically reordering my general ideas about trying and changing. It was a kind of math therapy. I don't believe that any of my favorite female teachers would've been suited or willing to do it.

    What's more, I don't think I had any advantage as a female student with a male teacher. To me, those math teachers seemed to communicate the same degree of patience to both female and male students. Since then, I've had other generous mentor-type teachers like that, but very, very few of them have been female. I've known plenty of women who've developed those personality traits, so this cannot be some kind of personality difference among genders, but it has seemed to me--then as a girl or now as a woman--that it is very rare to encounter approachable female authorities. I hadn't before realized how my brief math career also fits the pattern. My few female mentors in high school, college, grad school and at work have seemed to me more like how I imagine a football coach would be: commanding, disciplined, correct, inspiring, slightly detached. If I needed professional advice from a mentor for a problem with factors that were even the slightest bit personal, I would definitely be talking with a man. I wish this weren't the case, but there it is, and I think it's a little strange. I wonder if the situation might change as the next generation of women (mine) comes up and supplants the last. I think a lot of us are trying to be for others what we never found for ourselves.