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Notable Student Success Stories: Kate Bendrick

Authored By: 
Kate Bendrick, Math Teacher

American students are plagued with the belief that math is a talent. In one study comparing American students with Japanese students, American kids gave up on a problem after 30 seconds. The Japanese students, by contrast, struggled for an hour to solve a problem. That’s 120 times as long!

Sit on a stone for three years to accomplish anything.”

This Japanese proverb might have something to do with this enormous difference. The proverb means that with patience and perseverance, anything can be accomplished. The outsider’s pessimistic interpretation might be twofold: sitting doesn’t accomplish anything. Sitting doing nothing is boring. And indeed, perseverance happens when the glamor of novelty has worn off.

There is no glamor in my students’ successes. There is no lightbulb moment in which suddenly ignorance is replaced by vast understanding. It’s a process of slow realization, that patience and perseverance does in fact work. My student came to me at the beginning of the year in Algebra II with the same opinions of himself as a multitude of others. “I’m bad at math.” “I’m a bad test-taker.” These weren’t excuses, but deeply embedded ideas about himself. They were dangerous too, because they drove him to a place of sadness and defeat. And, worst of all (to me the teacher) they drove him to (gasp) not do his homework!

“Patience is bitter but its fruit is sweet.”

My student’s path to success was one of patience. There was no magical cure. The solution was plain as day, and just as mundane. For him, the solution was to do his homework. That’s it. He would come to class, having looked over the homework problems, only to tell me he couldn’t do them. “Did you try?” I would say. “Well…” he would respond. Every day I would remind him that math is a skill, not a talent. Every day that he hadn’t done his homework, I reminded him that practice makes perfect. And slowly but surely, he started doing his homework on a regular basis. And guess what? His tests improved remarkably. He began speaking up in class more and more often. His confidence in math increased.  

It’s amazing what doing your homework can do. But of course I say that, I’m the teacher.