I am incredibly lucky in my step-parenting situation, in that Claire’s mom is very supportive of my desire to be part of Claire’s life. Still, I was a little bit surprised to get a text from Joel last week inviting me to attend Claire’s parent-teacher conference, even if secretly I had been wanting to go. I felt honored, and then a little bit freaked out. What in the heck happens at a parent-teacher conference?
Claire and I discussed this at length on the way home from school.
“What if I mess it up?” I asked her. “What if I don’t do it right?”
“Amanda,” she said, “It’s not like you’re exactly learning anything. You just have to sit there and listen.”
“But what if I say the wrong thing?”
“You won’t. You won’t even have to do multiplication.”
That part, it turns out, was true. I didn’t have to do multiplication, which is a very good thing. (Lately, helping Claire with her times tables, I can’t believe how hard it is for me to remember things like 9×4.) I did, however, initially sit in the wrong seat in my haste to make myself as small and unseen as possible. I also found myself making dumb jokes in an attempt to liven up the room when we learned that Claire has been initially stumped by addition and subtraction. The teacher smiled kindly at me, but did not laugh. I’m sure Joel was wishing he hadn’t brought me.
We quickly realized why math has been troublesome: 3rd-grade math is now stupid hard and complicated.
The teacher showed us the five different methods students can use to get to the answer for addition and subtraction. The standard method – the one I up with – is now called The Old Way or something similar, and in its place are these ridiculous formulas for breaking numbers apart and putting them back together. All three of Claire’s parents stared at this worksheet in stunned silence, and then laughed uncomfortably. We have college degrees. We are all successful in our careers. And not a single one of us could figure out how in the hell to decipher these methods. How is it easier to break apart 437 and 93 and THEN add them? How is 400+30+7+90+3 easier? HOW? Are they just screwing with us?
You know those contests, where the ice cream parlor or whatever puts a bunch of gumdrops in a jar, and the person who guesses closest as to the number of gumballs wins free ice cream for life? Last school year, Joel was doing a shoot for Cheerios in our kitchen and Claire was his hand model. The food stylist was going through a giant pan of Cheerios with tweezers to find the EXACT RIGHT ONES, and Claire was obsessed with guessing how many Cheerios were in the pan. Turns out, she was already doing 3rd-grade math. Because estimation is another method. If you round 437 up to 440 and 93 down to 90 and then add 440 and 90 and then subtract 3 and add 3 you will also end up with the right answer. Because 8 year olds are, I guess, good at holding all those rules and numbers in their heads? At 39, I can barely follow the logic.
I have friends who are teachers and other friends with kids in elementary school, so I know we are not alone in this sentiment. Modern math has, apparently, stumped an entire generation of parents. The teacher, to her credit, admitted that it could be confusing and assured us that Claire could do math The Old Way as long as she got the right number.
By the end of the year, Claire is going to be learning fractions. I can barely remember anything about fractions, except that it’s the one with the common denominator thing. As a kid, fractions and I did not get along. As an adult, I usually only encounter them in cooking, and otherwise convert everything to percentages in my head. If they’re teaching fractions in six different illogical ways, I’m going to have to get my own homework tutor just to help Claire with hers.
I am in danger of failing 3rd-grade math, which is a new low for me.
I said as much during the parent-teacher conference and later regretted it. I most certainly do not need to get Claire pre-worrying about fractions or the difficulty of future math problems. Math is already not her favorite. She doesn’t need me validating those feelings with my own pent-up angst about getting a D in Algebra II.
The rest of the conference went off without a hitch. Claire is a great kid, well-liked by her peers and always willing to be helpful. She is curious and asks questions. She shows enthusiasm for new things. She’s awesome. No wonder I like her so much.
Besides expressing my dismay at the math, I sat quietly and didn’t ask questions. I was proud to have a seat at the table, but also not quite confident enough to be part of the conversation. And though the ice was broken by our shared abhorrence at New Math, I felt a bit like an interloper. I imagine next time will be easier.