If you are uncomfortable dealing with students’ emotions, or with encouraging them to express their emotions, keep in mind that the emotions are still there, even if everyone is ignoring them. It may help if you acknowledge possible feelings to the class, without singling out any particular person. For example, you might say, "I can see some of you look puzzled right now. If you are feeling confused, hang on. I think the next activity will help sort things out." If a student is able to say, "I’m confused right now," the expression of the feeling releases it, and leaves a calmer space for paying attention to your assurances that help is at hand. If you express out loud your awareness that some people may be confused, you may accomplish the same thing for some students. On the other hand, if you notice the puzzled looks, and go on to a new explanation or to the next activity, without acknowledging the confusion, the students who are dealing with the emotion will not be able to give their full attention to the activity that you hope will clarify the confusion. Expressing the feeling helps the situation, no matter who does the expressing. Students who would be unwilling or unable to express their confusion may also be served by your acknowledgement of it. You will see smiles and nods to confirm your expression.
In the following sections, I’ll talk about how some emotions might be expressed in the class and some ways of dealing with them when they show up.
I’m happy. I’m having fun. I’m enjoying myself. I’m excited about this. I love math.
I look for joy in my teaching. Why else do it? In teaching math, there is both the pleasure of math to be looked for, and the pleasure of teaching. In learning math, there is the pleasure of math to look for, and the pleasure of learning.
The pleasure of math is a pleasure that both teacher and student can share; the pleasure of finding a pattern, or figuring out three ways to show that 1/8 equals 12.5%, seems to be pretty much equal between me and a student. The student has the joy of discovery, and for me, the pleasure of the patterns does not seem to diminish, and I have the additional satisfaction of witnessing the student’s joy. The pleasure of teaching and the pleasure of learning often happen at the same time—it’s that moment when someone says, "Aha!"
I think I can. I’m going to give it a try. I know I can figure this out.
As teachers, we often have the mindset to see where students have gone wrong, to find the errors. This is a useful mindset to the instructor—it helps us figure out what to review, to notice how one way of explaining is more useful than another, to notice patterns of errors, and so on—but it is not useful to the student. The mindset of seeing errors improves teaching and learning when I keep the information to myself. When I say it out loud, it decreases confidence in students who hear it.