During my formative years, through elementary school and high school, graduating in 2005, I never had a math teacher who wasn’t female.
What this statistic says about the current national focus on STEM education (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), I’m not sure, but what I can say is that I was never, and will never be, good at math.
This is no reflection on the earnest and hardworking teachers I had growing up. Some of them won awards for their teaching ability, but it wasn’t because of my progress.
I also had a steady stream of science teachers – a subject that I enjoyed, unless it involved math, such as physics – but the gender mark was almost the opposite. My science teachers were mostly male.
A recent push in education is to diversify the job fields associated with STEM, and by some marks they’re working. However, there is apparently work left to do.
According to a government study titled “Women in STEM: A Gender Gap Innovation,” women in STEM fields are often underrepresented, holding less than 25 percent of the jobs in the U.S. And these numbers account for an increase in women graduating with college degrees in STEM.
This I’m sure doesn’t account for teachers, but teachers are the ones building the foundation for kids going into these fields, whether it’s in mathematics, engineering, science or technology. Math, it seems, is the cornerstone to all of these – and I know I missed the mark under teachers who were trying.
If we’re going with the male stereotype, I should have been better at math, but I preferred English and history to anything else.
Fifth grade, the home of long division (do they even do that anymore?), was my first taste of math as a subject that eluded me. Mrs. Mifflin, a long-tenured teacher at that point, had little patience – and even less for students who crammed their homework into the back corners of their desk. But, I have no doubt she knew what she was doing.
Mrs. Chard, in sixth grade, also taught history, so I had the challenge of acting like I enjoyed both subjects. I would rather memorize all the U.S. presidents than stare at fractions, but I tried. I remember some girls in my class who were well on their way to STEM-field jobs, taking high roles in the school math team and Odyssey of the Mind competition (one girl is now an Air Force pilot).
For three years straight, I believe, I had Mrs. Brown for math. She taught me in seventh and eighth grade, and then moved to a high school job, where she happened to teach freshmen. Lucky me. She was a good teacher, but these were the years I struggled most.
I would make the trip to school early for study sessions in her classroom before school; sometimes I’d stay after. It helped me squeak by. I’ll always remember her handwriting and the large projector she used to write out equations. I can see the green dry-erase pen scrawling now.
It was also during this time that I realized my interests were in writing and music. As I progressed through high school, I joined advanced placement classes in English and history, but stuck with regular old math instruction. As far as math was concerned, I had already checked out, as bad as that sounds.
The most memorable, and horrible, part of Mrs. Labbe’s math class in ninth grade was on Sept. 11, 2001. Other than that day, I had the constant struggle of barely keeping up.
By 10th grade, I remember needing three more credits of math to be in the clear. By that time, I was already writing for the school newspaper and playing in a band. Writing and music had already won.