I thought I was a bad kid: High Math Anxiety and Stress behaviour

By Jo-Dee Duffett


I used to think I was dumb and a bad kid when I was in high school. I had always done well in languages and music but just couldn't understand math and rarely passed math tests, despite studying. In elementary school I would find every excuse to leave class and would often call home "sick" during math class. This behaviour continued and got worse in high school as I will explain shortly.


My home life was less than ideal as I entered grade 9 and the only thing that was consistent was the inconsistency of it. I often escaped to my grand-parents place where it was safe, quiet, loving and consistent but this resulted in many days of missed school as they lived in another town. I was always able to easily catch up on missed work in every other class (even my science classes which is weird because of the amount of math that was required in some of them) but math class always made me physically sick and angry.


Looking back now, I was absolutely horrible to my math teachers! I think that the fact that my mother was a teacher and my then step-father was the Dean of Althouse College was my saving grace from being suspended. I would do whatever it took to get kicked out of math class daily. I spent many classes in the Principal's office or in the hallway (usually, I just left and came back for next period).


I realize now, that this was classic stress behaviour. I had been told by a teacher that I was "stupid" when it came to math and that stuck with me and when this concept of myself combined with the stress at home as well as being in a class with none of my friends, it became too much and it was easier to "flee" from math than to remain in a situation that added stress. There were so many signs in several of the domains (migraines, stomach aches, emotion, cognitive and pro-social) but at that time I didn't have the Self-Reg understanding. I did eventually manage to get my mandatory math credits thanks to some very patient teachers and an amazing guidance counsellor who said I could come and work in her office during math class as long as I stayed (quiet) for the lessons first.


I still feel like someone has punched me in the stomach when I have to do anything math related in front of people and could totally empathize with my son when he too struggled with math but I have made it my goal to overcome this and to take an active part in the math instruction at my school. Being able to look back at my behaviour and understand that it was from stress is so freeing, and although I'm not going to be the next great mathematician, I can do my part to reduce stress for my students so that they have the opportunity to thrive.


Like Susan, I too was "THAT" kid! And now, I absolutely LOVE "those" kids because I understand that they aren't misbehaving - they are stressed! I now offer my office to students who need a "safe" place to work and while they are working I am planting the SEEDS of Self - Reg with their teachers and with the students themselves.


I am so grateful for Dr. Shanker and Susan for their amazing work!



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