I teach seventh and eighth grade math so I have the same students two years in a row.
Last year, I spoke to the mother of one of my new students right at the beginning of the school year. The mother was extremely frustrated. Her daughter struggled in math and the mother was fed up. She felt helpless when her daughter would cry through her math homework and the mother was at the point where she wasn't going to have her daughter do any homework at all. I spent more than half an hour on the phone with her that day and most of it I spent just letting the mother vent. I was really glad that I called.
As for the daughter, her frustration was visible and it was obvious that she dreaded math. She had difficulty getting through even simple problems because math made her so anxious.
I didn't do anything special for her. I treated her the same as all of my students and I held the same expectations for her. At times, I assured her that she would get through a particular unit. Mostly, I just tried to let her know that I believed in her.
She walked into my classroom today with a big smile on her face, put her things down, turned to me and said: "You made me like math."
It's moments like that which give me reason to get up every day, to put aside whatever is bothering me, to offer a smile even to the kid that drives me crazy, and it's absolutely what drives my teaching.
And for the record, that girl was a star. We did a review of reducing fractions and she did awesome. She didn't suddenly become a so-called math person, she isn't doing extra studying, I didn't give her any extra help today. The thing is: she isn't afraid anymore. She feels like she can and she knows that if she gets it wrong, the world isn't going to come crumbling down and it doesn't mean she's dumb and there's going to be another problem to solve.
It was a joy to watch her work with confidence today. It was a joy to see her do as well as all the "smart" kids. But mostly it was a joy to see her smile as she told me she liked math now.
Book recommendation: I just got a book called "What Great Teachers Do Differently" by Todd Whitaker. I've just started it, but it's awesome. Very inspiring- just what I need for a new school year.