As a veteran middle school teacher, I have seen too many students come into middle school without the elementary school basics of knowing multiplication tables, basic division, and operations involving decimals as well as those involving fractions.
It is essential that students have their “times tables” down to the point that if a student were awakened from a sound sleep and asked “What is 7 x 12?” the immediate answer would be “84.” Without this mathematical automatically, the student is left stranded and alienated when a problem appears on the board such as “7 x X = 84.” The student is expected to instantly realize that the missing piece to the puzzle “x” must be “12.”
And this ability is just the price of admission to a successful middle school math career. Somewhere along the line students have become alienated and estranged from math to the point that – and I am not joking – a popular national teachers’ magazine found in a survey that a large percentage of middle school students would prefer a dentist appointment to doing a math homework assignment. C’mon – I never loved math myself as a seventh-grader, but opting for a dentist appointment – WOW!
What we need is for parents to send their kids to middle school with the basics already in tow. Then the teachers can take over and deliver the “goods” as prescribed by state standards. With the pressure on educators by “No Child Left Behind,” there is little, if any, time for remedial math. It’s all about covering the current grade’s standards in order for success on the end-of-year cumulative state exam. School districts around the nation are under intense pressure to meet their annual performance requirements.
The problem doesn’t go away even if a student with significant math deficiencies is promoted to the next grade. It just starts to snowball until by the first or second year of high school such a student is on the way to dropping out altogether. Parents need to realize that they are responsible for equipping their children with the requisite skills whether its by “the carrot or the stick.” I offer small treats and incentives in my classroom for students who display sincere effort. Notice I didn’t say strong performance, but sincere effort.