I volunteer with a group that provides tutoring to kids from grades nine through twelve. The included kids have been determined to be 'at risk of not graduating high school'. Of course, many of the students bring mathematics homework to the group, and they present a wide range of skill levels.
All of the tutors mean well (it's hard not to in a volunteer position) but the majority of them are some combination of incapable, unwilling, or uncomfortable with working on mathematics with the students. A student looking for help with math is often met with phrases in the range
- "I'm not good at math"
- "I can't math" (this one drives me insane)
- "Everyone has trouble with math, hey?"
- "That looks hard..."
The tutor then seeks out one of the 'math people' in order to pair them up, and quickly abandons the scene.
To my mind, this communicates to the students that the tutors believe some combination of the following very bad things
- Only certain people can learn math.
- That they don't value math.
and subtly encourages them to adopt these beliefs themselves.
How can such interactions be steered toward something more productive? How can math phobic adults be convinced to participate in actively talking, learning, and participating in mathematics? How one communicate to a well meaning volunteer that their actions are potentially damaging without alienating them or hurting their feelings?