Taking the Sting Out of Math Title Typography
with Steve Demme

Traumatized by Math

Shocked and Saddened
I have been leading math workshops for homeschoolers and professional teachers for decades. I’m still continually shocked and surprised to discover that many moms and teachers suffered horrific experiences while being taught math when they were students.

On one occasion I was conducting an all-day seminar for teachers at a private school in New Hampshire. I was teaching how to use manipulative blocks to illustrate algebra. One of the teachers sitting to my right put her head down and began to sob. During the next break I went over to her and asked if she was okay. She looked up and said, “I have never understood algebra, and now you are encouraging me to teach algebra to my students. The reason I am a second grade teacher is that is all the math I can do.”

This past April I was at a homeschool conference and a young mom in her thirties was standing with her husband as she related an event that traumatized her when she was eight. The teacher of her third grade class was walking around the room assisting students who had raised their hand for extra help. As he came to her desk, she asked a question to which he replied, “You are the worst math student I have ever had. You will never be able to learn math.” Then this mom began crying again as she relived the experience. I dislike even writing those words. How awful and insensitive.

Many moms fear teaching their own children and rightly so. If you have endured similar ordeals in your childhood, acknowledge that these events occurred and they have wounded you, deeply. Sadly, this is a part of your past which has shaped and formed you. Recognize that there is no quick fix. Talk to a good friend or your spouse. Please don’t try and bear this painful secret yourself. Ask them to pray with you.

When you have confronted your wounds and examined them, you might even consider telling your story to your children. Explain that since you have gone through difficult educational experiences, you will be learning and re-learning together. I know that grievous situations have contributed to many wanting to homeschool their own children, to spare them this pain.

“Perhaps the greatest lesson you can model for your children is how to persevere when faced with a challenging subject.”
Ask God for Help
When you are ready to teach, pray before you begin learning together. I have taught hundreds of workshops and seminars, and yet I still pray every time I am in the front of the room and it makes a huge difference. I need God’s help and He always comes alongside me to give fresh courage and new ideas.
A Few Helpful Math Tips

You are a tutor, not a classroom teacher. You have the opportunity to tailor your instruction to the needs of your children. Take some time to assess what your students know—especially if you are a first-time home educator. Do not assume anything. Math is a sequential subject. Once you have determined what they know, begin teaching at that level.

Your students are never behind. They are where they are. If they have not fully mastered multiplication, do not begin studying division, which is the inverse. Give your full attention to multiplication and then introducing division will go so much smoother.

Turn off the expectations of others, particularly your family members and friends at your co-op. Give your children the freedom to be successful. Move at their pace. You’re the expert of your children. You know what they know, and God will help you to know when to move to the next concept.

Watch for how they learn best. If you have auditory kiddos, make sure you clearly explain the instructions out loud. If they are more visual, use blocks, draw pictures, and use lots of paper and pencils.

Perhaps the greatest lesson you can teach and model for your children is how to persevere when faced with a challenging subject. Each of us will find ourselves in situations where we feel overwhelmed and discouraged. God will help us. Pray. Talk with others. Ask for help. These are lifelong skills that will last way beyond math or history.

When I was pursuing being a high school math teacher, I had to attend a local university and take several advanced math classes. I had always been good at math and believed it would be challenging but doable. However, this was ten years after I had last been a student in a math class. One of the classes was complex variables—which was calculus with the imaginary number, the square root of the negative one.

I did not learn one thing in the class and received a D based on sheer effort. I dreaded this class but needed it on my transcript. The best lesson for me was that for the first time, I knew what it felt like to be overwhelmed and unable to grasp the material being presented. I developed empathy and compassion for my struggling students.

Sometimes we learn so much more not from doing well but from falling on our faces.

One of my favorite promises when it comes to educating our own children is found in Isaiah 54:13, “I will teach all your children, and they will enjoy great peace.” We do the best we can with what we have, then trust God to make up the difference. He will help you more than you can imagine.

In hope and confidence,

P.S. If you would like to watch some of my videos for your own edification, make some popcorn and watch the bald guy with a tie!!

Steve Demme

teve Demme and his wife Sandra have been married since 1979. They have been blessed with four sons, three lovely daughters-in-law, and six special grandchildren. Their fourth son has Downs Syndrome and lives with them in Lititz, PA. Steve has served in full or part-time pastoral ministry for many years after graduating from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He is the creator of Math-U-See and the founder of Building Faith Families.