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      Hard Isn’t Bad

                In this Mathematics Teacher article, North Carolina educator Dan Teague remembers how in 1963 he was part of a group of middle-school students chosen to take an accelerated math class. “As far as we knew, we were the first kids in the history of the world allowed to take Algebra 1 in eighth grade,” he says. “We thought we were hot stuff.”

                But the teacher gave them some sage advice: “You guys are good, and math is easy for you. But always remember this: Everyone has their Green’s theorem.” He described how he had sailed effortlessly through Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry, and Calculus – and then he hit Green’s theorem in Multivariable Calculus and found it really, really challenging. Even though he was just as good at math as he’d always been, from that point on, he had to work hard to be successful. “His meaning for us,” says Teague, “was that, at some point, mathematics becomes difficult – for everyone. And when we hit our personal Green’s theorem, as we all eventually will, we need to learn to work at it like everyone else.”

                The problem is that many students believe that if something is easy, they’re good at it, and if they have to work hard to be successful, they’re not. “Moreover,” says Teague, “and this is the dangerous part of this thought, if a subject isn’t easy for you, then you just aren’t cut out for it.” Even if you enjoy working hard at it and are ultimately successful, you won’t consider it as a major or a career option.

                This misconception needs to be addressed head-on, he says: “For everyone, mathematics becomes challenging. Mathematics is one of the greatest intellectual achievements of humankind. Of course, it will be challenging. Everyone has to work at it – some earlier than others and some later than others. But everyone has a personal Green’s theorem.”

                Teague believes this applies to other subjects as well: “It is important for students to understand that, whatever their area of interest, the subject will eventually become challenging… The real question isn’t whether a student finds a subject easy or hard; all subjects will be hard eventually. The real question is, Do you enjoy that challenge? That’s how to decide what career path to pursue. You actually don’t want an ‘easy’ job. You want to be challenged by your work and to draw joy and contentment from accepting the challenges it offers and working hard to meet them.”


    “Everyone Has a Personal Green’s Theorem” by Dan Teague in Mathematics Teacher, November 9, 2015, http://bit.ly/1RZ0IqE; Teague can be reached at teague@ncssm.edu.

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