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"I'm not good at math!" Really??

I suck at math, online math tutor, math anxiety

Society tells us math is hard. We are given license to chime in, “Math was my worst subject.” Do you believe this about yourself? Do your kids believe this about themselves? What if we change the narrative to empower ourselves, to empower our children, and to change the way we all view and value mathematics. There are good reasons to make this shift.

I never met anyone that was simply UNABLE to learn math. In all my almost 30 years of teaching, I have been able to teach every student I ever encountered in math. There are no exceptions to this. I’m not saying that everyone was in love with math or that they were going to major in math or that they would eventually become a math tutor. Everyone can do mathematics. No kidding! So many factors play into whether we view ourselves as being able to do math, like our teacher’s skills, the way math was presented to us, whether we ever seriously studied math, and most insidious what people tell us about math.

Has anyone ever told you that you were good at math? I suspect if you view yourself as “bad at math” that no one ever said a nice word to you while you were cranking out that math homework. I don’t think I’m a great singer. No one ever told me I could sing. But, I can sing. I sing every time I drive in my car. Okay, I won’t be on the cover of Rolling Stones, but I can get a melody out. The same goes with math. Are you really horrible at math, or is that just what you tell yourself? These messages really can affect us and stick with us. What if we flipped the script? If you have successfully measured a window or planted a garden or knew how much of a tip to leave, then you have successfully done math. Didn’t that feel good when you accomplished those things?

How we talk about math affects the young people we are surrounded by. I would bet that if you have a young son or daughter in school, then you would want them to be successful in math. Would you tell them they are horrible at math? No way, that would crush them. Even if they understood math, even enjoyed math, if you said that to them, it would change their view of their math ability. Let’s flip the script again. It’s easy! Just become their cheerleader. When they are working on their math and you see them doing it right, give them a high five. When a homework comes home with all the points possible, tell them what a great job they did on math. Ask them how it feels to do so well in math. When they are studying for the next math quiz, tell them you know they will do well because you’ve seen how great they did on the homework. We all love encouragement!

Girls can do math! But, if you watched and listened to society you would swear only boys can solve an equation. Maybe in the 1930’s girls weren’t expected to be as smart as boys, but I bet even then every girl knew she was. Even when I entered high school math teaching, I was entering an “old boys club” being the only woman in the group for the first 15 years of my teaching. But, now in our 21st century information society, we have to hold up our girls and tell them, “You can do anything you can dream of doing, including math.” We need good engineers, scientists, computer programmers, doctors, nurses and so many other jobs that require a good understanding of math. It has been my life’s mission to encourage the girls in my math classes to shoot for the stars. With a few honest, sincere compliments, girls will become inspired to do well in their math classes, raise their hands before anyone else, and most importantly start to look at those careers in math seriously.

Maybe a quick, “I have never been able to do math.” Seems harmless. But, maybe it does harm, not just to ourselves, but the other people that hear us say it. Flip the script!

“I CAN do math!”

Yes, you CAN do math. I know it’s true.

If you found this blog helpful, please feel free to share it. My name is Terri Grigsby. I do online math tutoring and in person tutoring in the Portland, Oregon area. I am accepting new students, check out my website at, look around, and book a tutoring session. If you have any questions, you can always contact me on my website or at

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