“this is easy” vs “whoa, that’s hard.”

I had private French lessons today. (If you’re wondering – I take private lessons to supplement French class at my school, because the foreign language department is lacking.) Mme, my teacher, is one of my all-time favorite teachers. She’s so energetic and exuberant and very passionate about French and linguistics. Mme pays a lot of attention to her students. I can ask her a question, and she knows most of the answers off the top of her head. However, if, by chance, we stumble across some problem that we cannot figure out, she always looks it up for me and gives me the answer next lesson. Sometimes, she even makes flashcards for me, with the answers to the questions. But all that takes a backseat to her attitude, my favorite part of Mme. “French is easy!” she always proclaims. “Le subjonctif? Pas problème. Voyez…”

Now, if only my other teachers would have the same attitude. I feel like a lot of students get frustrated when they can’t solve a problem on the first try. Then, the teacher says, “I know, this is really hard. I have problems with this too,” to try to empathize with the students. But that statement just makes the situation worse. Now, the student thinks, great, not even my teacher can do this. No way in hell can I do this.

I grew up in a household where my parents taught me everything from a young age. No doubt that had something to do with natural intelligence, but something has to be said for teaching a child their (yes, try to bear with my bad grammar) multiplication tables at age five. It took me an entire summer to learn them. My parents drilled me every day. They never said, “I know, multiplication is hard.” Instead, they said, “You can do it. Look, it’s easy – here’s a trick for learning the fives. And seven times eight? Repeat it over and over again. Before bed, repeat ‘seven times eight is fifty-six’ as many times as possible, and soon you’ll know it.”

Somehow, I learned my multiplication tables. It saddens me that some high school students don’t know their times tables. When I tutor, I try to say, “Look, math really is easy.” Because the right mindset is everything.

In my elementary school, I can’t remember a single teacher who did not say, “Math is hard!” And one of them even cracked a joke about becoming an elementary school teacher because her math sucked. And more than one English/social studies teacher has done that in middle school, jr high, and high school.

This constant drilling has got to rub off. No wonder my fellow students end up thinking “math is hard” if so many teachers have been repeating it since kindergarten. Like me repeating seven times eight over and over in my head, sooner or later, it’s going to stick. And then it’s going to be hard to remove.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to ““this is easy” vs “whoa, that’s hard.”

  1. From personal experience, I would agree that having a teacher say “Oh, I have trouble with this too.” or “We’re learning together.” is disheartening and a bit on the pathetic side. However, I have seen many, many times, where select “advanced students” have tried to use the same method and say “This is easy!” and it is quickly perceived as “I get this, so it’s easy for me. You’re stupid. Be better.” and comes off in an arrogant manner. I think that this is a concept that has to be used carefully (ha, I suppose that goes for everything…).

  2. Great point, Chani. It’s certainly very easy to be pretentious when saying “this is easy” but I think getting rid of “this is hard” altogether will do more good than harm. Perhaps another alternative is needed, or perhaps it’s all in the teachers’ attitudes…

  3. It is never reassuring when a teacher says, “I’m learning too.” Never. But I think they should keep saying it, just so I know when to stop taking a teacher seriously.

  4. Melanie

    I hate to say this, but seven times eight is not sixty five. It’s great if it sticks, but only if it’s right…! Good luck! ;o)

    Peihe replies: Oops! Talk about embarrassing typos. 😀

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