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!

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