Math Anxiety and How to Overcome It

As a tutor and a teacher, the most prevalent issue I have encountered inhibiting students’ growth is a deep-rooted terror associated with mathematics. More than difficulty with concepts or even a poor foundation, math anxiety damages a person’s ability to succeed. This stress plagues learners of all ages, backgrounds, nationalities, and levels. Even more unsettling, this disturbing roadblock is one of the most difficult to overcome with many never recovering from that math fear.

When meeting with a student or class for the first time, I always mention math anxiety. Often I’ve found that it is this elephant in the room that no one wants to address but is hovering over everyone’s heads weighing them down. By bringing this monster out in the open, we can observe the problem together and find common ground in defeating it as a team. Once my pupils know I am aware of their negative feelings toward the subject I hold so dear, they are much more likely to open up. Even more so they are willing to confide in one another as they realize that they are not the only one suffering such a burden.

It may surprise you to know that I have found in my experiences that 100% of the kiddos I’ve tutored and/or taught have had math anxiety at some point which lead them to me. Yup. Both students who are striving to hit top of their class as well as those who are ecstatic to finally see a passing STAAR test score alike have had math fear keep them from their goals. So with such a common theme holding our youth back from academic success, why hasn’t someone come up with an answer?

MATH ANXIETY

The key word here is ANXIETY. Math anxiety is just one form of excessive worry a person can experience. An anxiety disorder is a condition so severe that it can cause someone to have panic attacks and numerous other symptoms you can read about here. When a student experiences nervousness in math, it could be part of this larger diagnosed problem, but more likely it is not so severe.

Much more common is to find that a person’s apprehension is directed entirely at math. Unfortunately, this does not make overcoming the anxiety any easier. While recognizing test anxiety across multiple subjects or difficulty coping with daily struggles can be crucial to helping to identify the best course for addressing the severity of math anxiety someone is facing, we are still left with the task of somehow succeeding in class.

The heart of the issue is that so many students, parents, and teachers simply write this off as normal or miss it altogether. This stress, however, is paralyzing to those studying mathematics regardless of whether they are suffering from a full disorder or simply terror every time they enter the classroom for a math lesson. Fear has no place in a learning environment as it inhibits a student from performing at their best.

When the mind experiences duress, it takes up thinking space, to state it simply. This leads to distractions as well as forgetting concepts that may have previously been no problem. I like to give this example in class:

What time is it?!?

Have you ever woken up late and been in a rush to get to work or school on time? Most of us have, and it’s not a feeling that anyone enjoys. You’re rushing around to get through your routine but still look presentable for wherever you are going. In your head you are trying to figure out what you can skip, constantly checking the clock to see if you’re on pace, and sort of focusing on each task at hand. Yet for some reason your hands can’t seem to remember how to hold a toothbrush and your legs keep ending up in the same pant leg.

You’re stressed. And that anxiety is keeping you from accomplishing tasks so simple that on most mornings you probably can’t even remember doing them because they are so practiced that they are second nature. Now imagine that same level of panic in math class. If you struggle so hopelessly with such mindless tasks, how much more difficult would it be to comprehend an entirely new subject or practice a concept that you’ve never experienced before?

This is math anxiety. While some may experience it more or less than others, some may call it test anxiety because it rears its ugly head during exams, and still others might even be lead to believe they are just not good at math due to its influence, all who suffer are held back from their fullest capabilities. So then this begs the question: “How can I stop the anxiety?”

Math Anxiety < Math Knowledge

I’ll just get it out of the way that, yes, of course if you know more more math then obviously you will feel less stressed out about needing to complete math problems. Alas, it is also a statement that really doesn’t help those whose fear stems from not grasping concepts. If you are struggling to comprehend a method or having trouble daily in class, then hearing “you need to know more math” is not only useless, it is insulting.

How awful does it feel to have someone approach you in something you’ve failed at despite giving it your all? I never tell my pupils that they merely need to study more or work harder to overcome their fears. The only result would be increasing their frustration because most students are not only aware that they need to work to solve a problem but are also genuinely trying up to the point that they begin to feel that it is a futile attempt.

It deeply saddens me the number of kids and adults I encounter every day whose first words when they realize I am a math teacher are “I hate math!” I do not expect everyone to share in my passion for the subject. No, instead my anguish is derived from the stories I have seen and heard from my students where they were shunned had a negative experience in class that forever turned them away from mathematics. It is absolutely heartbreaking to see a student failing assignment after assignment when they’ve shown me how capable they are but cannot overcome some past event that holds them back every single day.

That said, there is a reasoning behind all of the need to know more. You cannot succeed in any subject, sport, or career without practice and growth, which can be painful. As I’ve said, I would never tell my students that studying or “working harder” will overcome their fears, but those efforts do make a difference in their learning. It is an undeniable fact that repetition builds up skills, and developing math ability is a key to future success across every career path. Thus, growth in mathematics is necessary.

Part of that growth will be struggle. Pain. And even stress. When you light weights to build physical strength, you literally tear muscles so that when they heal they grow back stronger. This is how people tone their physique (mixed with fat loss of course). Academia is no different. Contrary to popular belief, struggling is not bad, which I covered in my post I Want My Student to Struggle. Notice, however, that fear is not part of that equation. (Haha, math pun…)

Now that we have addressed the necessity for learning math and its place in feeling more comfortable in class, let’s tackle the true issue at hand. We know that increasing our ability to work through math problems is an obvious start, and you’re in a good place to clear up some topics with supplemental instruction (ahem…check out my lessons…cough cough). But beyond that, how can we focus on the math anxiety?

De-Stressing and Re-Conditioning

What we need is an actionable plan to grab our full attention and to help re-train us when we walk into class. Math anxiety, and anxiety in general for that matter, comes down to stress. Stress, in itself, is not a bad thing. The internal strain we feel in situations that require us to act is actually quite good in situations where you might need to move out of the way of a falling object or dive away from an incoming bus. It is in the classroom that we are forced to sit and just dwell on the emotion where our mind shuts down.

Thus we need to recondition our thought process in order to de-stress and take actions that make sense for our situation: math! The plan I try to get my kiddos to follow looks something like this:

  • Pinpoint
  • Ask
  • Meet
  • Partner
  • Expect
  • Repeat

PAMPER yourself!

Pinpoint When the Math Anxiety Began

While it is true that the way we are wired can influence how we handle daily life, in most cases, math aversion is learned not inherited. Thus, typically there is one moment in time, some event, that sets a person down the path of “I hate math.” Perhaps it is just popular in our culture to avoid an issue and discriminate against it when we don’t understand it, and we choose to do so in order to save face in front of our peers. Maybe a teacher/tutor/parent had a misunderstanding with you that left you feeling unheard or unimportant.

Regardless, it is up to you to look back and really dive into yourself to find the time or series of times that really began conditioning you to fear math. For some, this task may seem almost comical remembering the time something that seemed so harmless occurred. But for others this can be a frightening experience. Reliving those memories can sometimes be as traumatic as going through them initially. As difficult as it may be, however, this is the first step for a reason!

Once you get into that mindset and can at least somewhat remember what you were thinking and feeling when this all started, you can begin to dissect what really happened with a slightly more mature mindset. In some cases, it may be necessary to forgive a teacher for being human and simply making a mistake that you took to heart. I know as an educator, this is one of the most terrifying parts of being in front of people introducing them to topics. We make errors just like everyone else, which could affect a student forever. As such, we have to be open to correction and able to admit those mistakes.

A simple slip of the tongue, you mishearing what they said, or not being able to comprehend what you heard at a younger age can all be such frustrating revelations as you look back. In worse situations, there could be some form of abuse that occurred or even a genuinely bad situation that you are already aware of. How did it make you feel? Why did you associate that feeling with math? These can be very difficult to answer and may take time for you to fully dissect as well as come to terms with.

Just realize that recognizing these feelings is merely meant to get you thinking about math in a new way, not completely change your outlook. For that we have to carry on through the PAMPERing.

Ask Yourself Some Questions When the math anxiety hits

Now that you are beginning to question your own thinking, let’s pick up steam and start learning to reason through the stress. I’ll be the first to admit, this is going to be the hardest part of the process for many people because it involves changing patterns. We find comfort in our routines, and altering them is never comfortable. Though it may be odd to imagine your math anxiety bringing you anything but pain, remember it has been your primary method of coping with mathematics for quite a while.

The trick here is not only to attempt to diffuse some of your anxiety but also to distract your mind into thinking something else. Fear is a difficult emotion because its very good at operating subconsciously. Therefore to diminish its effects, at least somewhat, we have to focus very hard. We don’t need to acknowledge the fear because quite honestly it usually just worries us more, at least from what I’ve seen students do. Instead, we occupy our thoughts with a few questions.

What’s this called?

This is probably my favorite. Regrouping and reclaiming your wandering thoughts is a great way to focus in on what is right in front of you. Just asking immediately causes you to remember that you’re in class or studying and need to glean at least something from this lesson. Even if you are struggling and can barely keep up, this one bit of information will help you later. After all, you can’t Google a topic or tell a tutor what you were working on unless you know what its name is!

What do I recognize?

Ah, another great way to find some peace. Humans fear the unknown, especially when that unknown is defined as x. (Another terrible math pun…) Trying to find some piece of the puzzle on the board that you can understand or are at least familiar with can alleviate at least a small fraction of the anxiety creeping up. If you fall into the habit of trying to latch on to the steps that you feel somewhat comfortable with you may even prevent the fear from crippling you, with time. And best of all, this is the most effective way to learn math: taking things one step at a time and advancing just a little farther each time!

Why am I scared?

Ok, I hear you. What a stupid question! I’m terrified and freaking out because I’m trying to learn math! But that isn’t the entire truth, is it? Earlier we talked about pinpointing exactly where things took a turn for the worse. This is why. Remembering that even or series of events can actually bring you back from the edge. Don’t allow yourself to believe that this current topic is so devastatingly difficult that its hopeless. Instead you now know that the panic stems from something in your past. While it doesn’t ease the pain, it opens up possibilities for taking in new information.

Who can help me?

Asking yourself who your support is can bring the most drastic relief in the moment when math anxiety is at its worst. This question paired with the next two points help you realize you are not alone. Everyone struggles in math, so why not do so together? With this in mind, you should have friends, or tutors, or parents, or teachers ready to get through the learning with you. These people you trust can be your greatest asset against the worries that plague you, which leads to our next step.

Meet new teachers and tutors with an open mind

You’ve got to give each new teacher you meet a chance. A few of us have had that one teacher that made an amazing impact on our lives. Truly they changed the way we saw the world and introduced us to our passions. Unfortunately EVERYONE has had a teacher that wasn’t exactly pleasant. That’s not to say those teachers were bad. No, instead they just didn’t get along with us for whatever reason. Alas, it does not change the fact that the experience soured the taste of that subject the entire year.

I’m aware that not every teacher out there is going to match every student, but you can do your part to give them a chance. If you enter into every new class with the mindset that math is awful and so are the people who teach it, it really is your fault. Regardless of a their behavior, you previously made up your mind what you wanted to believe. All I ask is that you simply allow them the opportunity to prove you wrong. Just this tiny shift in mindset might open the door to allowing this new teacher to be one of those people you can trust to help with the stress.

One of the reasons I like to meet people for free before tutoring them is that we both need to know this relationship is going to work. Learning works best when two people connect. I personally strive to find a way to relate to anyone so that I can make mathematics mean something to each person I teach. Through this initial meeting, I can not only gauge what someone is needing instructionally but also if they can enjoy the way I teach. I know I appreciate it when a new pupil will meet me half way, so I’m guessing other teachers appreciate it, too.

Partner Up!

Now that you’ve given your teacher a chance, it’s time to take control of at least one aspect of your learning. That means finding a friend, parent, tutor, other that you can really trust to help you when you get stuck. And there are two trains of thought here on how to choose:

  • They know math.
  • They know you.

Ideally you are good friends with someone who is pretty alright at math (or great at it even), but the world is seldom ideal. If not, don’t worry! This is where teachers and tutors come in. You can find one who you click with that knows how to present ideas in a way you understand. And it is important to shop around. Unless your first meeting with a teacher or tutor is just life-changing that math suddenly doesn’t seem so suffocating, try a few. See who suits you best. Maybe your a female more comfortable with a female teacher. Maybe you like someone older. Younger. Same ethnicity. Same background. Socioeconomic status. Whatever your preference is, you need to feel comfortable coming to this person for help.

That is why I always recommend finding a friend even if you have outside instructional help. No outside resource will know you on the same level as your true friends. They can get you to open up and break down if you need to without judgement. Even if you both (or your group) all feel lost together, at least you know you’re not in it alone. Struggle through it as a team and come to conclusions. No, having them working on problems isn’t going to make you better much like having a friend do push-ups won’t make you stronger, but more than one mind is more likely to find a solution or be able to explain a problem.

Whether you choose to find one person, or ten, lean on them. If you find just a tutor, or hire someone to teach you then go immediately after to study with friends, make sure you communicate regularly. Blow off steam. Tackle the anxiety together so that class doesn’t seem as intimidating as it would standing against you by yourself.

Expect What to Expect

You need to both set some expectations for yourself and know what to expect in trying to overcome your math anxiety. First and foremost, expect some setbacks. Working through this process is not going to magically erase your stress overnight. Know that you’ll still feel some pangs of fear for a while. You will probably still struggle with concepts. And that’s OK! If you are surprised by these temporary failures, you will get discouraged. Knowing that you don’t always have to be perfect, however, will take the pressure off of you and let you improve at your own pace.

Next, expect to put in work. Going against what has been comfortable for years is not going to be easy. You will have to show up to class each and every time ready to give it your all. In case you’re somehow not aware, that can and will be exhausting, which again is why you should expect to have bad days. These are the times where you’ll lean on your friends for support. Let them know how you are doing so they can encourage you and remind you of your progress.

Finally, set some expectations for yourself. The end goal of completely defeating your math fear is great, but it is a long way off. Having some minor aspirations and milestones to realize your efforts are working can make or break any process. If you are trying to lose weight, recognizing every 5 lbs you lose forces you to accept you are achieving your goal one step at a time. Just like weight loss, acknowledging that you made it through two classes without freaking out or did better on this quiz than the last makes a huge difference mentally when preparing you for the last step.

Repeat the process

None of the points here are meant to be an end-all fix to your math anxiety. Whatever stress you are suffering academically, you will have to put forth effort consistently to see results. And even after you’ve subdued your fears, they might come back! It is so easy to fall right back into the same patterns, especially those that we used to cope with difficult situations. Thus we have to be prepared to accept when we struggle or relapse into panic, pick ourselves up, and continue the strategies we have been using.

Practice makes perfect. Repeating push-ups makes you stronger. Repeating your diet meals fosters weight loss. Practicing math problems increases your math fluency. And repeatedly PAMPERing yourself can alleviate at least a little of your anxiety.

The short version

Math anxiety. Math fears. Panic attacks. Stress. Math hate. Whatever you want to call it, it affects most of us at some point. And for some it lasts a lifetime. But there are ways to control the aversion and learn to succeed. Hopefully this can make a difference in even one person’s life. Maybe share it with someone you know who is struggling if you think it could help. My ultimate goal is to help others succeed, and this is one of the biggest roadblocks in that path.

Together we can change the culture surrounding mathematics and make it more accessible to everyone. Students can be in math class and not be miserable. And if you’re reading this trying to overcome your own anxiety, know that I applaud you and recognize your efforts.

I Want My Students To Struggle

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Originally, it was a question on Quora that prompted this and got me thinking. The person asked if “math geniuses” struggled with math problems. Hmmm well first let’s answer that question.

Struggling is actually relative to the one solving the math problem. So, if you are asking if a math genius struggles with some of the problems that are difficult in basic classes up through calculus, then probably not. If, however, you are asking if such gifted individuals work through problems of their own without always knowing every step beforehand, then yes.

I provided the picture to exemplify my meaning here because it can be difficult to imagine problems that “geniuses” would find challenging, even for me with a math degree. While the first problem is hopefully easy for those reading through this, a student experiencing math for the first time can have a hard time putting together that one quantity plus another quantity gives a third quantity.

As a tutor and teacher, I have worked with students from the ground up, so to speak. It’s actually really cool watching little ones light up as they make connections and discover patterns. Getting there can be a struggle, though, and we all went through it at one point or another. In fact, the same struggle sticks with us all the way through our discovery and practice of mathematics.

There are problems out there that remain unsolved despite these brilliant mathematicians working together to arrive at a solution to benefit all of mankind. I would say that qualifies as a struggle since they haven’t been able to determine an adequate answer. But this is not a bad thing!

One of my personal education mentors asked me a question that has forever changed the way I approach math both as a student and teacher. Does struggling have to be a bad thing? While at first, of course I was opposed to ever having a student I was pouring myself into go through any distress in their attempts mostly due to the already negative association many people have with math, I came to understand that this is how individuals grow.

No matter how many times I explain a concept to someone, it will always seem easy when I do it because I already know how to perform the calculation or derivation. Until that person realizes for his or her self, they cannot repeat the process on a new problem. The struggle leads to discovery. Working through examples and then problems on their own helps foster both independence as well as appreciation for the effort needed to become a capable mathematician in their own right.

Granted, I don’t mean locking someone in a room and leaving them to their own devices. No, no. What I mean is a guided study that is equal parts help and discovery so that every student can feel that they understand the subject matter.

If you’re like me, then this revelation is one that does not come easy and can lead to a good deal of strife in terms of concern not only for your own progress but those you are responsible for. Hence, one of my favorite quotes from one of the greatest minds that has ever lived.

 

The famous math genius and physicist himself, Albert Einstein said not to let your struggles get you down because he was sure he had a much harder problem that he was trying to solve. Hard to get more authoritative than that!

Hopefully this not only answers your question but also serves as a springboard for any discouraged students looking toward the future for a little hope.

As always, thank you for letting me a part of your journey through math!

Kagan Love

I’m Bad At Math

Yet another answer I felt relevant for my blog. It’s questions like this that abruptly ended my pursuit of math for myself and tossed me headfirst into the sea of education to help keep others from drowning in fear of the subject that I adore so.

CaptureThere’s your answer, right there. Confidence is key!

Now, before you think I’m picking on you or doubting your assessment of yourself, please forgive the harsh opening. I want to let you know from the beginning that I believe in you and have no negative thoughts toward your intelligence whatsoever.

You yourself have said that your IQ is high, typically a great indicator of math ability especially! If I am to assume that you believe this, which I do, then the confidence you need is already a part of your personality, which is great news!

Unfortunately, I have seen time and time again students who lack the same attitude about their math skills. Fear not, you are definitely not alone. If you will allow, I would like to give you a few helpful tips in how to improve.

Confidence

No shocker there. In every initial assessment I’ve done with a student, either their parents lead with how their child doesn’t feel good at math or I will quickly discover that my new pupil is afraid to make a mistake.

That’s silly.

I made one small typo in an answer on here that had some 6,000 people read it. Was it embarassing? Perhaps a little. So what did I do with this situation? I pointed it out to every student I saw that day and online to my Facebook friends because I thought it was funny.

In all honesty, it is good that I made a mistake. Not necessarily for my ego, but for others to see that even though I literally do math more than I walk every day, I am not infallible. More than that, it wasn’t the end of the world. I still had numerous upvotes and support, so I corrected the typo and went about my day.

(And I can guarantee that I won’t make the same mistake again because now it has been cemented in my mind.)

I have no misconception about my math ability compared to others. My passion is in educating others, so there are definitely mathematicians out there and on here who are far more capable at computations, mind-boggling equations, and abstract proofs. But I continue on because I can see I’m making a difference every day in the students I teach.

You have an IQ, so the ability is there. Once you let go of the stress of making a mistake that might damage your intelligence (which it certainly won’t, or make others think less highly of your mind), I have no doubt you will begin to see improvements.

Practice

My favorite question for all of my students is this. Does knowing how to do a push-up make you stronger? No, of course not. Doing push-ups makes you stronger.

In order to get better at math, we must do it often. I said above that I do math more frequently than I walk every day. It’s true. I had some of my students in class help me do an experiment one day. The time I spent working through math problems with them and then tutoring in the evenings was almost quadruple the amount of time I spent walking.

Would you ever walk up to someone and say, “Wow, man, you are great at walking!” Probably not, because we all do it all the time. It’s more unusual when someone cannot walk well and typically has some underlying problem that prevents them from being able to do so.

Thus, when someone compliments my math abilities, I politely thank them and humbly offer that example as my reasoning. I am terrible at memorizing things, and know this about myself. So it was a lot of practice that got me to this math degree (thank you teacher who dared me to try to get one).

While I believe confidence may have the most to do with your struggles, you will still have a few years at least of practice in the wrong direction to rewire in your brain. All the time you spent thinking poorly of your math prowess set in your head to think a certain way when a problem came up. Now you will have to practice doubly hard to erase that time.

And don’t worry. In my experience, with a true attitude change, you will be surprised how quickly the fear dissolves away, and you realize just how intelligent you are.

Humility

Ask for help!

Seriously, find someone you trust and ask them to help you while you are improving. This serves two important purposes.

  1. Having someone who has an excellent understanding of mathematics there to guide you helps to feel like a team while initially overcoming your anxiety related to mathematics. They will be there to immediately help arrive at an answer when you get stuck. Over time, they should allow you to struggle more to develop independence until you feel confident enough to handle any problem on your own.
  2. They are going to see your improvements before you are. This is why you need to trust your math guru. If you believe their words and know they come from a place of genuine caring, you will know there must be something to their telling you that you are getting better!

This takes humility as asking for help can be difficult, especially for someone intelligent. I’m sure that so many subjects must come naturally for you, so to have to ask for help may be a new experience. I assure you that no real teacher or tutor will ever think less of you or degrade you for it.

Even people who struggle have an issue asking for help because no one wants to feel dumb. Let me tell you now so that no one else can ever take it away from you: Asking for help is the key to success, especially in academics. It does not make you dumb. Anyone who thinks or says differently has not yet overcome their own anxiety about asking for help in the areas they are aware of in their own lives.

Conclusion

Perhaps I’m wrong and you feel confident and are sure that the problem lies elsewhere. I do believe, however, that with these tips, any one or combination of them, can help you see improvements. Again, I believe in you and know that your future is bright in every academic area.

Thank you for letting me be a part of your math journey!

How much do Online Tutors earn?

As I have been getting quite a kick out of answering these questions I find online, I would like to attempt to shed some light on this area. This answer, like so many others pondering a monetary value assigned to a skill, is largely dependent on a number of factors:

  • Your Credentials
  • Your Tutoring Medium
  • Your Subject Area
  • Your Demand

Let’s look at each in just a little detail so as not to make a monster wall of text but still provide some meat to dig into. (I personally tutor math, so the example numbers I use will be based on that information.)

Your Credentials

As with any job, the more capable you are, the more people are willing to pay you. As a general rule of thumb, high school students charge $15–20 per hour, college students charge up to $30, individuals with a bachelor’s degree move up to $40, and master’s degrees go to $50+ per session.

Typically, this would vary slightly due to geographic location. Large, more affluent cities will be willing to pay higher rates on average than smaller towns. Conversely, areas with less tutors in your specialty may let you set your own rates. Buuuut, the online world doesn’t care about any of that.

In my mid-sized city with one of the lowest costs of living in the United States, families couldn’t care less that some New York tutors charge up to $150/hr because they are paying $40/hr for excellent teachers. My advice, figure out what your specialty averages overall, and charge that.

Your Tutoring Medium

This could honestly be the largest deciding factor in this list. What I mean by medium is how you choose to go about offering your services. Should you choose a tutoring service such as Wyzant to simply list yourself as an in-person tutor, the values would be very similar to what I stated above.

Other sites such as tutor .com pay out somewhere in the $10-$15 range as they take their cut and have to make money as a business. The most profitable, however, are those who have their own websites and promote themselves there. Taking into account the other factors on this list, you could earn quite a good living.

Taking things a step further, you could also offer lessons coaching other tutors or hopefuls dreaming of making a fortune charging upwards of $500 for a specific online course package where you meet with clients.

Your Subject Area

Again, I personally make my supplemental income through tutoring math. The numbers I have been quoting through personal experience. Few academic subjects other than physics or specialty courses will earn you more. That said, there is oh so much more you could do other than simple academic tutoring.

I mentioned above that some internet gurus offer training to emulate their success. Perhaps you’ve heard of copywriting and it’s potential to earn you tens of thousands of dollars for a few hours of work. It isn’t a scam. It is completely possible, assuming of course you are very very well known with outstanding results. But those who are well known are happy to train you for your shot…for a high price.

Add to this skills such as playing a musical instrument or sports coaching one-on-one and you can see just how diversified tutoring can be.

Your Demand

Just how good are you? What can you offer that no one else can? You should be readily able to answer these questions in order to land clients. Perhaps you are just as good as the next mathematician but offer quick wit an humor. That can be your catch for students. Maybe you are an excellent storyteller or have a knack for empathizing to help alleviate stress before tests.

Whatever makes you you is your highest selling point because there isn’t anyone else that can do it the same. Granted, you do need to be skilled at your specialty in order to teach others. Figuring out the demand for your skill as well as your specific ability to teach it will help you determine what you are worth usually through experimenting with different prices.

Conclusion

No answer will be a one-size-fits-all here which is hopefully apparent just with the four extremely broad and over-simplified factors that I mentioned here. In the end, it is up to you to set your prices and come to a justifiable amount for your own services.

What I aim to provide through blogging about this topic is a guide to getting started on your own. Even though every case is unique, researching the successes others have seen can help you to discover your own path to achieving similar goals.

Thanks everyone!

Breaking Into the Tutoring Game

The following is an answer that I wrote for a question on Quora that I will link to here:

How much does an average mathematics tutor earn monthly?

The answer is of course that it really depends. I am sure that isn’t the response you were looking for, however, so I will do my best to toss in my two cents.

First I am going to assume that you mean tutoring privately as yourself and not through a business such as Mathnasium or Sylvan, both of which I have been employed by and even run at some points. At either you can earn anywhere from $9/hr to $20/hr for private lessons. The advantage to such employment is guaranteed income at 5 to 20 hours per week with the possibility of more as you devote more time to them and rise in ranks.

The next factor to consider is what you are charging. This will rely on both your qualifications and location. I live in a mid-sized city where math tutors charge from $15/hr as high school students to $50/hr as teachers with masters degree or higher. I personally charge $20 to $30 for each hour.

Finally, you must take into account the time you are willing to invest in tutoring. As a teacher, much of my day is naturally devoted to my job in addition to planning lessons and grading. Thus, I typically only have from four in the afternoon until whenever I feel like is a good time to stop. A word of caution here, however. It is very easy to get burned out working late into the evening and pulling consistent 13 or 14 hour days, so if this is a part-time endeavor on the side, mind your health.

On average, I once read somewhere that tutors can make an extra $500 a month as a simple side gig. Personally, I average around $2000 tutoring with some months as low as $600 and others as high as $2800. (My all time record was a month where I brought in almost $7000.) I have been told that I am a more rare case, to be fair.

If your purpose in asking this is to begin supplementing your own income through tutoring, I have a few suggestions.

  1. Start Now — I managed to make a name for myself in college by having my name on their tutor list to be provided to local parents who inquired about help for their children. The ultimate key to building up a steady stream of students is through recommendations made over time. I know everyone hates to hear that nothing is a “get rich quick scheme,” but I can attest that anything worth doing takes time. As you work with more and more students, you will slowly gain a following.
  2. Get a Facebook Page — This one is actually unique from what many professionals would suggest purely because I mean to have the page as your primary source of contact. I purchased a website and maintained it for two years with zero response even from the fairly decent number of pupils I had already. My Facebook page, however, continues to bring new customers. Perhaps others have had different experiences, but this is what worked for me. (And it is completely free! I wouldn’t even recommend running their ads!)
  3. Make Every Session Your Best — Ultimately, your best qualification and source of new clients will be word of mouth. This is especially true for any city with a population of less than 100,000. Be your own unique self. Personally, I live by the philosophy that math terrifies people, so I make them laugh and boost their confidence. I promise that if you can get a student to laugh even once, their mindset will change, and their parents will notice. Associating any academic venue with happiness instead of pain for a family that has been having struggles is sure to have them talking about you to their friends.
  4. Figure Out Where to Advertise — Alas, even though this is surprisingly the least important part of the puzzle, it is just as necessary. Where else are you going to find your first student to start making your recommendations? I have found success in Craigslist, Facebook (as mentioned above), college campuses, and math departments. Anywhere that will let you post a flyer will help get your name out. Talk to others in your area to see the most visited spots both online as well as in physical locations. The most useful areas are those where you would find your prospective clientele. You’d be surprised how helpful people can be with a simple conversation about what you are wanting to do.

These are only four of dozens of tips floating around in my head as well as making rounds on the web, but they are broad enough to help get you started. Everyone’s experience is unique, so as you begin to get a feel for how you would like to work you will undoubtedly find your own successful route. What helped me was my experience at Mathnasium and Sylvan honing my ability to break topics down all the way from pre-K through Calculus. This lead to building relationships with parents who sought me out after a center closed and they still desired math help.

Some of those parents recommended me to a private school where I found my dream job and continued to make more contacts. And the success snowballs from there as long as you remain honest and love what you do. That is where the time part comes into the equation.

At the end of the day, the best advice is to begin tutoring because you want to make a difference in students’ lives. This passion will drive you to become better which will draw the attention of the clients you need. I wish you the best and hope that I didn’t drone on too long as well as managed to answer your question adequately. Good luck!

Kagan Love

Common Core Addition

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As a private math tutor, I am called upon for a number of reasons.  Some parents contact me out of concern that their child is falling behind.  Others reach out to me in the hopes that I can help get their kid to the top of their class or achieve the scores they need to get accepted to the prestigious school of their choice.  Lately, however, I have been approached to simply help students with their homework.  It is not necessarily that the student is behind or looking to expand their knowledge and jump ahead.  Instead, the parents see the methods being used and come to me in frustration to answer the questions that their children have.

While it is true that this is good for business, and it is nice to make a living doing what I love helping people better understand math…I would feel too guilty charging for something that I can remedy in less than an hour.  That is why I am hoping to simplify some of the “crazy stuff” that kids are bringing home these days so that parents aren’t left scratching their heads wondering what is is that a teacher is looking for.

First of all, let’s start with the basics.  If you have a kid who’s in Kindergarten through Second Grade, they are most likely working on adding and subtracting numbers to begin with.  Now many reading this might scoff and say, “Addition? Subtraction?  Why can’t they figure this stuff out?”  Well, let me show you a few things.

Let’s look at an example of a fairly basic problem:

I would hope that this looks simple to the majority of us.  Now consider this, how do you know that 4 added to 8 results in 12.  In the beginning we were given pictures; one group of 8 somethings then a group of 4 somethings and told to count them all up.  Of course, we would count 12 somethings in total.  The problem with this is that counting is slow and we would like to eventually move into memorizing this as a basic addition fact.  How then can we help a young student to internalize this idea that 8 plus 4 equals 12?

This is where some of the Common Core strategies come into play.  Now, let me just preface this with a disclaimer.  I like the methods for helping students to learn concepts that are having trouble with more “old-school” techniques, but these are not useful for everyone.  I believe I made my stance clear on the matter in my other post here (Common Core Rant).  We good?  Ok, back to delving into some of these things.

If a child is having trouble quickly remembering that 8 and 4 make 12, then we have to come up with another way to come up with the answer that is more efficient than drawing objects and counting.  The first step would be to recognize which number is larger.  In this case, 8 is bigger than 4, so we would begin with 8 and count up by 4: 9, 10, 11, 12.  So 12 is our answer.  This is still slow, but it is slightly quicker than counting up to 12 with two groups.  The reason this step is important is for problems like this:

Though this is the same problem, initially, students don’t realize this.  Showing young children that a group of 4 and a group of 8 is the same thing as a group of 8 and a group of 4 is another building block that helps with fact families and more difficult problems later on.  For a student to realize that he or she can start with the larger number will also save time as counting up 8 from 4 will take longer than counting up 4 from 8.  This idea of addition being Commutative is a concept that we get to show students even though they may already have memorized 8+4=12, which is one reason that a teacher may spend extra time on some of these facts.

After establishing that we can count on from the bigger number, we can extend this further.  Knowing something called Ten Facts, we can help students to break problems down into easier pieces.  For instance, we know:

Since we are adding 4, we need to add two more to get to our answer 12.  Ok, there is a lot going on here.  Our number system is based on tens, so being able to recognize how to get to ten, and later to multiples of ten, can help improve students’ efficiency later on in life.  So recognizing all the tens facts,

will help with knowing how to make it to ten for the first step in addition problems involving answers over ten.  Again, notice that both 8+2 and 2+8 are listed as facts.  This is a chance to reinforce the idea that addition can be performed in any order so that with extra practice, students are more likely to internalize the concept.  The second important skill necessary here is to know that 2+2=4.  With the tens facts, a child can see how to get from the larger number up to ten, but that won’t do any good if he or she doesn’t know how much left to add.

Being able to decompose numbers into parts or groups is not only a way for children to perform the rest of this problem and others like it, it also helps to lead into subtraction later on.  Knowing doubles like 2+2=4, or being able to see facts like 1+3, 2+2, and 0+4 all equal 4 will help a student to figure out how much more must be added after figuring out the distance from 8 to ten.  All these methods are explained in school, and the student decides which is easiest or which he or she remembers the quickest to know that 2 more must still be added.

This brings us to the final step of adding 2 to 10.  Being able to add single-digit numbers to ten is useful because it is one of the more quickly learned skills (which builds confidence in students who are struggling) and can carry forward to adding to multiples of ten like 20, 30, 40, and so on.  One of my favorite ways to show students how to add numbers is to say them close together.  For example with 3 and ten, if you say them quickly, you get “threeten,” which sounds a lot like thirteen.  The same with “fourten” and others.  With 11 and 12, the sound doesn’t play out so well, but after practicing the others, the student usually pics up the pattern (and finding a pattern is the best we can hope for our students as a teacher).  Whatever the path, the student will find a way to finish up to see that 10 +2 =12.  So let’s review:

hmmm… I know:

and

so if I added 2 to 8 already, I need to add 2 more:

Phew, that’s a lot of steps, but look at all the good things we learned to get there.  In the end, memorization is the goal.  However, simply memorizing isn’t always the best.  As I stated in Common Core Rant, students who have a deeper understanding of more basic concepts are better prepared to extend that knowledge when working on more difficult problems later on.  Yes, this takes more work, but it could be the only way that your child is capable of getting to the answer if he or she just isn’t remembering the fact initially.

Ultimately, if you prefer that your child learns in a different way, that’s what tutors such as myself are around for, to supplement the education that they are receiving.  However, my goal here is to show the method to the madness and help explain away some of the confusion that many parents have come to me with.  Hopefully, next time your young student comes home with this “crazy new math,” you’ll have an idea of what is going on and what the teacher is trying to convey through these longer processes.  Again, not every student learns the same way, which is my problem with Common Core, since teachers are required to teach the entire class the same methods even though it may not be the most effective.  The techniques are useful, however, and we should appreciate the thought that has gone into helping all children better understand math.

I will continue on with some of the subtraction techniques in my next post, and from there I will go on to cover multiplication and division.  Thanks for reading, and be sure to like or subscribe as this will most likely become a series I am writing!

Common Core Rant

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As a private tutor, I am incessantly met with complaints about the current method of educating students in mathematics.  In many cases, when I meet with a student and parent for the first time, the topic of the dreaded Common Core methods come up.  Time after time I hear the same frustrations.

“Why do they make it so much more difficult than when I was in school?”

“What’s wrong with the old way they taught it?”

“If I can’t understand it, then how can my kid?”

“Why do all these steps when you could just do it like this?”

These concerns are very real, and it is never a bad idea to be involved in your child’s education.  Taking an interest in how your son or daughter learn lets them know that you care, that you’re there to help them should they get discouraged, and helps them realize the importance of practicing their academic skills.  However, I take the unpopular position that the Common Core methods are not inherently bad.

What many people do not realize is that math builds on itself.  It is very difficult to comprehend a topic without the foundation beneath it and fully grasping the necessary prerequisite skills.  What many Common Core strategies address is not only how to arrive at a correct solution, but also how best to build up the techniques that will be used later on in math.  Let’s look at an example.

Say we want to multiply 364 by 12.  One of the Common Core methods for this is to use something called partial products.  Instead of brute forcing it with the algorithm that many of us know, we do it in pieces.  One way would be as follows:

364 x 10 = 3640

and then,

364 x 2 = ?

Here again we break into pieces:

300 x 2 = 600

60 x 2 = 120

4 x 2 = 8

All together we have:

600 + 120 + 8 = 728

So our final answer would be 3640 + 728 = 4368.

I know what you’re thinking (because I’ve had it yelled at me before), “That’s so many steps!  Why bother?”  Well, what do you really do when you line up the numbers and follow the algorithm?

   364

x   12

You would multiply 2 by each part on the top, and get 728, then you would go down, put your zero because it’s in the tens place, and then come up with 3640.  Hmmm.  Hopefully it seems a lot more similar now.  It’s the same concept, just the way it has been written is different.

Unfortunately, people are creatures of habit.  I will be the first to tell you that if you know how to do something in math, good for you.  By all means stick with it, and keep practiced!  Where we run into a problem, however, is when a student does not understand how to do the algorithm the way you do.  What then?  Should I simply keep telling them to do it until he or she might finally accept the process.  How many of you knew why to put the zero in the second line when you first learned multi-digit multiplication?  How many of you just thought about it now?

Is it important to be able to simply arrive at a correct answer?  Of course it is!  Wouldn’t it be far more useful later on to have the knowledge of why a process is happening?  You be the judge.

The reason I tutor is so that I don’t have to stick to one method only.  (More on that in a little bit.)  I get the opportunity to find out which method makes more sense to a child rather than only staying stuck, nailed, and riveted to the same techniques regardless of what helps a child learn.  Because of this, I have taught both ways to multiply on numerous occasions.  Here is what I’ve noticed.  When I teach the algorithm to someone who is struggling and it takes hold, they can usually get it and very soon are having no problem.  Then I ask them to multiply by a three-digit number and….they get stuck.  No idea what to do on the third row with very few exceptions.

The kids who happen to like the partial products method more, however, rarely get tripped up when moving into three digits.  Why is this?  It’s simple really.  The students who do the longer steps don’t need to learn a new rule.  Instead they are prepared to extend their knowledge and tackle a larger problem.  With the algorithm, it must be taught to put two zeroes on the third line as you are now in the hundreds place.  Usually at this point, the child sees a pattern and can move into 4 and 5 digit numbers with little trouble.

Does this mean that one way is superior to the other?  Nope.  Whichever way makes more sense is the way to teach it.  The ability is more important than the method for sure.  Once understanding has taken place, then other methods can be taught to help improve speed and efficiency.

But that brings us back to our initial complaint.  Why does the school force everyone to do the first way then?  Now we are asking the correct questions.  There is nothing inherently wrong with the Common Core methods.  In fact, they are better for preparing students for more advanced topics later on, if any comparison needs to be made.  Where we run into trouble is that the school system has made the mistake of assuming that every person needs to perform calculations in the same manner.

Every person learns differently, and the key to education is figuring out the best way to convey a topic to a student.  When the schools only teach one way in order to attempt to reach the majority, there will always be those who are left out.  The problem with the new Common Core system is not necessarily the methods being used to teach, but rather the ideology behind when and how to use those techniques.  So the next time you have trouble with a topic, or you see your child working through a method that you question the usefulness of, try another approach instead of complaining.  I think you’ll be surprised how it takes away the frustration and helps kids grow in leaps and bounds.