What It Feels Like to Have Wonderful Readers

The response to my last post has been totally overwhelming. Whether you found it via Slate, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, skywriting, or messenger owl, I’m grateful that so many of you discovered something resonant in my little story.

Most of all, it’s been wonderful reading your stories. Far and away the most common response – and my favorite type to read – has been: “Ah yes, I remember the time that happened to me…” Your tales of academic struggle run from elementary school to research postdocs, from mathematics to English Lit. Most encouraging are the stories from professionals (even professors!) who now make a living on their quantitative skills, after facing the same doubts as the rest of us.

For those of you still in the throes of anxiety, mathematical or otherwise: Have faith! Browse the comments on this blog or on Slate (or check out the gaudy number of Facebook shares), and you’ll see that you’re far from alone. We’re not stupid, any of us – we’ve just got questions to ask, problems to tackle, work to do. To struggle is to grow, so don’t be afraid to struggle!

I promise to reply to comments here as swiftly and thoughtfully as I can (hopefully without letting my “to grade” pile grow until it becomes a permanent fixture in the Oakland skyline). And I’ll keep writing new things. Upcoming posts include “Death to the Quadratic Formula, a.k.a., Long Live the Quadratic Formula” and “Degrees vs. Radians: Ultimate Grudge Match,” as well as more thoughts on math anxiety and our culture’s strange relationship with mathematics.

My request for you is this: Please keep writing back! I’ve drawn so much wisdom, insight, and encouragement from your thoughts and experiences. Mine is the limited perspective of a 25-year-old. I’ve got much more to learn from the readers of this blog than they do from me. So please keep teaching me, and keep sharing!

Best wishes,

P.S. What really proved the resonance of this piece to me: strangers started following me on Twitter! I’d forgotten I had a Twitter account. I don’t even know how to Twitter. (How to “tweet”? I don’t know how to verb, either.) But if you’d like to track one teacher’s bumbling stumble-walk through this century of social media, follow me @benorlin.

6 thoughts on “What It Feels Like to Have Wonderful Readers

  1. Loved your article. Posted it to Facebook, shared it with several math teachers, a would-be math teacher, and my daughter’s principal, to whom I’ve complained about the abysmal way math is taught at the school. I won’t burden you with my life story about math, other than to summarize that both my husband and I struggled with it, our two children have struggled with it, I’ve spent thousands of dollars in private tutoring just to get my children (especially my daughter) through ever-more-complicated high school math, and I’ve been astounded at insensitive teachers like the Algebra 2 instructor my daughter had in 10th grade who spent all of her limited and precious time on Parent Night explaining to us moms and dads that struggling with math builds character. (I refused to tell my daughter, dissolved in tears over her math homework, to “Buck up! This will all be good for you in the long run.” Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    1. Thanks, Mary!

      I hope your children find success in math. In a lot of math classes (mine sometimes included, I have to confess) there’s too much blind, despairing, unsupported struggle, and not enough of the right kind of struggle – tackling a challenging problem with an expert guide who offers encouragement and advice.

  2. By the way, extra special thanks to the following people: my fiancée Taryn, for helping with the idea for the piece; Mike T. and David K. for early feedback; Ivan, Mike, and James, whose repostings caught fire; Katy Waldman, who sent the piece to Laura Helmuth at Slate, lending an impressive megaphone to my little confessional essay; and my students, who often manage to put up with me for hours at a time.

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