Mahi Tahi: Relational approaches to learning

This is an introduction to Mahi Tahi, one of the course papers that I’m studying. I wanted to write this post and subsequent posts on this subject because Mahi Tahi is one of the few subjects that I have to take and that interests me. The other two is Maths and English, so you know how that is.

Mahi Tahi is all about helping students learn and disciplining them in a relational and positive way, rather than using anger or sarcasm. I’ve seen really poor classroom management in the class, mostly by teachers who said that they don’t have a classroom management plan. Shocker! I know. And completely not practical for me.

For me, (and I’m sure I got this off a book somewhere), classroom management and learning are interconnected. You can’t teach without addressing behaviour issues. This supports research that says the first step towards learning anything, is “reach and teach”. The “reach” part is about relationships between student and student, student and teacher , and relationship with ourselves. In order to teach students and gain their attention for learning to happen, we must first meet their needs one of them being the need to belong in a group. This can happen through good relationships. It makes sense that if students like the people they have to be with everyday, and can work well with people who may not be in their ‘group’, then students are more likely to give teachers their attention and in turn, learn a thing or two.

This is just an introduction so I hope it wasn’t too much information crammed into a post. I told you, it’s interesting, and I hope it is the same for you as well.

I will be writing more Mahi Tahi posts so be on the lookout for that.

You’ll never be a primary teacher

The new semester began last week on Wednesday. I attended my first Maths 1 class on Thursday. Today was my second lesson. Due Sunday, is a reading response on an article titled, “Maths anxiety in female teachers” (shortened title). Man, can I relate to that! Aside from this article, there are so many other articles provided by my tutor (let’s call her Gabrielle), and it’s all very interesting.

It has made me call to question what my beliefs are over my Maths skills, over what I can and can’t do and how this affects the students that are under my care and influence.

The Youtube video, “Boosting Maths” talks about a growth mindset and how anyone can learn Maths. Speed does not matter but thinking does.

This offers hope for me as it means I don’t have to graduate uni and enter the classroom with all my Maths anxiety baggage that I’ve carried since primary, ever since I started learning fractions.

The article, “Female Maths anxiety affects girls’ Maths achievement”, describes how the female teachers’ thinking and level of skill in Maths, affects and greatly influence how their female students think and perceive Maths.

The article uses statistics of an entry class in the united states, of which about 90 % of teachers were female and all had Maths anxiety. Of the girls that believed in the stereotype that boys are better at Maths than girls, because of their teachers’ influence, scored less than the girls who didn’t believe this stereotype, and boys who believed either way.

However, you know what statistics is like.

The words, “Skewed” and “biased” come to mind as well as a big dose of, “No idea what this means.”

I can hear my year 12 statistics teacher cringing and crying out, “What have I taught you?”

The article also states that one of their hypothesis was that Female teacher anxiety would only affect the girls. However, I believe that teacher anxiety can affect how much students across the genders, learn and understand, no matter what gender the teacher is. This is because teachers have an influence on all their students and I believe it will be easy to know or find out if a teacher is good or bad at Maths.

Maths anxiety in teachers affects all students because, after all, how can a teacher who is not confident in doing fractions, be able to teach fractions? Although some students may be better at Maths than the teacher, the primary source of information and learning Maths knowledge comes from the teacher.

In my practicum at Elim School, I sat with a boy who was doing two digit multiplication. He was in year four and this kind of work was too easy for him. As a way to stimulate his thinking and encourage him to do his work, I raced with him to answer the questions first. I lost each time and he realised that I was slow at Maths. But, I told him that speed doesn’t matter in Maths. What matters is the thinking and understanding behind what you are doing. This concurs with the Youtube video, “Maths boosting”. I also said this more for the girls’ benefit who were in the room but it was also to help the boy student realise that he does not know everything in Maths and he, like everyone else, including me, were still learning Maths.

Maths is not a skill that can be conquered and done, but rather, it is a continual learning process that is forever changing and molding both ourselves and our understanding of the world.

Let’s backtrack, one year ago,  while I was still in the process of enrolling in Laidlaw College. I had to go to my Aunty because she’s also my accountant. Whenever I do anything to do with money or Study Link, I go to her.

When I told her I wanted to be a primary teacher, she replied with this;

“You’ll never be a teacher because you’re not good at maths.”

I was nervous. It’s not like I knew if I could be a teacher (even now, the verdict is still out), but I was also excited because what if I could. What if, Ching Ern Yeh, who never understood fractions, remembered her Number Knowledge, or prime numbers, could teach all these things and more? What if I could be a Maths teacher?

The thought scared me but even before I read the Teachers’ anxiety article that states, “students can successfully pursue a career as an elementary school teacher even if they have a propensity to avoid math.”, I knew there was a low entry level requirement of maths for primary teachers. I wasn’t asking to teach calculus or statistics. I was asking to teach fractions, one plus one, and number lines. I wanted to teach something that I had learned long ago. I needed something to spark inside me, to refresh and renew my mind so that I could grow, I could have a growth mindset and re-learn.

Even a year ago, I wore a secret smile, a quiet confidence in learning and teaching Maths.

But my Aunty wouldn’t let go of her rational and logical mind that told her it was impossible.

“You will never be a primary teacher,” she said, crying a little bit because she was sad to be the one to break my heart. (as if her fears weren’t obvious to me), “You were never good at Maths in primary so you can’t be a Maths primary teacher.”

Simple, right? Obvious, yes?

I thought not. And I’m glad for my 2017 self who, full of fears, anxiety and questions, also had lots of ideas, ambition and excitement. I’m excited to teach Maths because that is an indication for me that I’ve learned something, and a challenge to continue learning.

I’m not saying that, because I can empathise with students who don’t like Maths, all my students will pass fractions with flying colours. But just the fact that I can or may be able to teach Maths and do it well, is not a boast on my own strengths, but is God-given success. Through Jesus, I can do everything and nothing is impossible.

When I went for my interview, and admitted to them that I was not good at Maths, they told me what I’ve come to believe, is a message from God, “My Grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9, NIV).

Amen and praise the Lord, who not only gives me the strength where I lack, but made the universe and all the Maths in His creation.

Praise God, who, through the article, “Stewards of the Created Order”, gave me insight in the author and the words to use for when people ask me why I’m studying Education in a Theology college. The answer is this;

“…that pursuing mathematical study and pursuing a deeper relationship with Christ are not two mutually exclusive events. Through the Christian faith we can properly orient our understanding of mathematics so that we realize its inherent value and contribution to our worship of the Creator.”

In other words, teaching and theology, all the subjects I’m learning and God, are related to each other, not mutually exclusive. Thank you to my year 12 teacher who taught me what that meant. It means this: I can honour, worship and glorifiy God in the way I think about, do, learn and teach Maths.