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  • Writer's pictureDonna Gerard


Updated: Oct 6, 2023


The best way to learn is to teach someone else. When I was a kid, I was not a math star. More likely, I was the kid who took the test three times until I finally caught on. Long division was my nemesis. I spent long evenings at the kitchen table trying to figure out what to multiply 23 by to get it close to 156. This, I might add, was long before calculators made their appearance in the classroom. I despised division and did enough work to get by. Maybe. I had no real understanding of what I was doing and was extremely thankful when we moved on to fractions, until I realized I had even less of an idea of what those were about. Once I had access to a calculator in middle school and high school, I was able to hold my own.

Fast forward to age 24. I am a substitute teacher charged with teaching fourth graders for the day. I arrive in the classroom and sit at the teacher’s desk. The morning sun is streaming across his open plan book. We will start the day with math and we are beginning the chapter on long division. My stomach lurches and I am sweating. I open the textbook and turn to the prescribed page. I grab some paper and a pencil and hunch over the lesson. I carefully read the instructions and work out the sample problems. I start on the practice problems. Half an hour goes by and it’s almost time for the students to enter. More importantly, in my urgent quest to learn this monstrosity, I use my reading skills, memory of the procedures, and sheer determination to finally figure out how to do long division. The kids come in, the math lesson begins, and I am ready to teach. I have successfully learned well enough to teach.

As a teacher, we often have to expand our collection of knowledge and acquire new skills. It’s one of the challenges and one of the perks of the job.

As I progressed in my career and found myself teaching the gamut of subjects, I found something odd. I could always read and write as easily as I could breathe. However, I struggled in math and had scant understanding of science as a student. As a teacher, language arts frustrated me. How do they not get this? But I did well teaching math and science. I understood instinctively what they might not understand before I even introduced a skill or topic. My weaknesses as a student became my strengths as a teacher.

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