Much of what distinguishes the program at VVS is not what the department “does” so much as the way it “thinks” – it is a matter of attitude. We believe that these points are the fundamentals of the VVS model:
· The department members adopt the view that – contrary to the prevailing belief in this country, but constant with that in most other industrialized countries – success in mathematics is due much more to hard work than to innate talent. Many can achieve success in mathematics by persevering – it is not limited to an elite of geniuses. Faculty must personally accept this view, as well as press it on students in both formal and informal ways.
· The faculty must also be willing to “suspend disbelief” with respect to students whose past records have been undistinguished. There have been many success stories by those whose early records were lacking in promise, starting with Albert Einstein. Though prerequisites will remain in place, who is to say which of these students who have not yet shown promise are incapable of blossoming later?
· The secret of getting students to succeed is to keep up morale. Therefore, students must constantly be challenged, but each challenge should be at the appropriate level. Confidence in their abilities usually generates success in mathematics. The teacher who presides over failure should not excuse himself by saying the students “didn’t work hard enough.” A major part of the teacher’s job is to inspire their students to reach their potential. Avoid all temptation to “inspire” by threats, abuse, competition, impossible problems, guilt trips, invidious comparisons, anything negative – it won’t work. Believe in them, and they will probably do it. They can be given appropriate problems at first, so they will succeed and gain confidence, and they can be led on to greater and greater levels of achievement with problems of constantly increasing difficulty. Every success should be recognized. Every formal and informal method should be employed to see that achievements are recognized.
· Students should be learning in the classroom, which means not just listening passively. They should be solving problems then and there. Helping each other – good for both helper and helpee. There should be formal ways for students to help each other – such as a Math Tutoring Lab. Teachers should be aware that their students have different learning styles. Good teachers are above all flexible.
· There can be honors sections for large enrollment courses to challenge those who can learn faster or have stronger backgrounds. They should be allowed to take standard tests so they are not penalized for trying the honors level. For courses that are prerequisites to later courses, a certain minimal syllabus should be established and agreed on; but the emphasis should be on minimal. Some flexibility and good will is necessary between instructors.
· All courses should be oriented toward the challenge and understanding of mathematics, and the joy of doing it and understanding it. There is plenty of chance elsewhere and elsewhen to apply what one learns if and when it is necessary – other courses, or later work experience. The process and discipline learned in mathematics transfers to life long learning.
· Most important of all, an atmosphere must engender total support for the student. The function of the educator is to meet the student wherever he is and help him grow, help him achieve his goals, help him prepare to flourish in later life, however he defines this. The educator must be deeply committed to this task and must constantly convey to the student his direct personal concern for the student’s welfare. There must be a safe, caring, and supportive atmosphere in the department. What benefits one benefits all; what one achieves is an achievement for all. There is no place for competitiveness, except to the extent that every faculty and student in the district are on the same team.