It is amazingly empowering to have the support of a strong, motivated, and inspirational group of people. –

Susan Jeffers, author

One thing that was both encouraging and discouraging to me when I was teaching was the support or lack of support for students to learn math. With just a few encouraging words, teachers, mentors, counselors, administrators, friends, and parents can inspire and promote a love of (or at least interest in) mathematics in a young person. A few discouraging words can have an equal, if not greater, effect in the opposite direction.

We had a guidance counselor at the high school where I last taught who was notorious for telling students that it was OK if they weren’t good at math, because she wasn’t either. This leads, in some cases, to apathy and a general dislike of mathematics. I was reminded of this today when I read an advice column. In part, the mother writes, “I told her that, like most women, I wasn’t good in math so if she got a D, that was OK.”

What was the first piece of advice for this mother? “Shift your attitude.” I think there is a need for a general attitude shift about mathematics for all stakeholders. If you are involved in the education of children, please use encouraging words that support, rather than tear down, a child’s confidence in their own ability to do mathematics. It’s just one more thing we can all do to make mathematics better for everyone.