Texas Tech University

Teacher Helps Students Kick Some Math

TTUISD math teacher, Jerry Jerabek, is helping students overcome test anxiety, one tip at a time.

Jerry Jerabek

Jerry Jerabek

Jerry Jerabek

Jerry Jerabek

by Lucy Worley

June 27, 2017

Test anxiety is a daunting obstacle that stands between many students’ natural ability and their chance to prove their abilities. Texas Tech University Independent School District (TTUISD) teacher Mr. Jerry Jerabek is helping students hurdle this obstacle.

Jerabek has taught for TTUISD the last three years in addition to his full time role as the principal of Frenship Middle School in Lubbock, Texas, where he has worked the past 11 years. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Lubbock Christian University, a master’s degree from National University in San Diego and a second master’s degree back at Lubbock Christian.

When working on his first master’s degree in Instructional Technology at National University, Jerabek concentrated his thesis on test anxiety. Specifically, students who struggle with test anxiety in math.

“When I was in Southern California, I was teaching math in a community called Rancho Santa Fe while also working on my master’s degree. At that time, Rancho Santa Fe was the wealthiest community in America. The students I taught were the kids of government leaders and CEO’s of nationally recognized companies. I saw kids who were dealing with huge amounts of pressure from their parents and the spotlight on their family. It was crippling for them. That is where my interest in test anxiety developed,” Jerabek said.

You do not have to live in the wealthiest city in America to deal with test anxiety though.

“I have found that in the online environment of TTUISD, I get many students who will tell me they are nervous about taking my math class because that is why they left public school. They have fallen behind and now there is even more anxiety built up. I think the advantage of the online setting is that there is a real safety built in. Students do not have to worry about other students ridiculing them.”

One student that Jerabek has had a profound impact on is sophomore, Elayna Anderson.

Elayna Anderson with UIL medal

Elayna Anderson with UIL medal

Elayna Anderson with UIL medal

Elayna Anderson with UIL medal

“I enrolled in TTUISD part-time to take an online Geometry course so I could complete 10 classes this year,” Anderson said. “I needed to double up on my math courses.”

Anderson represents a large number of students who enroll with TTUISD to supplement a course here and there to work ahead or catch up.

In Elayna’s case though, she is working ahead.

“Math has never been a challenge for me, in fact I’m great at math. However, I am terrified when it comes to taking tests,” she said. “Mr. Jerabek helped me conquer this issue.”

Anderson claims the advice she received from Mr. Jerabek was different because many teachers don’t take the time to give this kind of detailed advice.

“His advice was valuable because it didn’t consist of the same old ‘just don’t worry about it’, he actually gave me things to do, instead of things not to do,” Anderson said.

Take notes, because here are Mr. Jerabek’s tips on overcoming test anxiety:

  1. Imagine an imaginary bubble around you and don't let the negative thoughts or doubts into your bubble.
  2. Focus on one problem at a time. If you start feeling overwhelmed literally cover up the problems above and below the problem you are working on with white paper.
  3. Take your time. Conquer the math one problem at a time. Don't let your anxiety make you rush. You will want to, but don't allow yourself to be "done" with a problem until you are confident your answer is correct or the very best, most logical guess you can make. Gain this confidence by re-reading the problem when you think you have your answer and using every way available (including non-mathematical good old common sense) to "prove" your answer correct.

Jerabek encouraged Anderson, “If you do these things, you will unharness the full power of your brain and will be able to test at the level you truly understand.” He followed this up with “now go kick some math!”

Jerabek clarifies with all his students that these steps will not make their anxiety vanish, but it will give them a clear strategy to overcome anxious thoughts.

“The advice Mr. Jerabek gave me is going to impact rest of my academic career,” said Anderson. “I recently attended a local SAT practice camp. Before I went in to take the exam, I decided to review these pointers that Mr. Jerabek had given me. When I received my scores the next day I had significantly improved. Not only did my math section improve, but Mr. Jerabek’s advice was applicable to other sections and overall my SAT score was raised by 140 points.”

How do students get so nervous about tests in the first place? Jerabek has seen some common trends through his research.

“Ironically, test anxiety comes from elementary school. Many elementary teachers are being asked to teach outside of their area of expertise. As a result, you get teachers whose strength may be in the arts, but they are placed in a math class. They are going to have some anxiety about teaching and this completely gets passed along to the students. When the teacher has a fear of failure, the anxiety spreads like wildfire.”

“Unfortunately, unless this is immediately corrected, by the time these students reach high school, they have already developed a very negative view of themselves,” said Jerabek.

As the principal of a middle school, Jerabek has been given the influence to guide and inspire hundreds of students and teachers. Perhaps the perfect place for Jerabek to be is in a middle school – the position to reach students with a message of confidence and capability before they get to high school.

For his students at TTUISD, Jerabek is meeting them in the middle of the fight. The anxiety is more advanced at this point and many of his students are in his online class for this very reason.

It seems though that Mr. Jerabek is the exact person you would want with you in a fight.

High school math may not always be a part of these student’s lives, but anxiety comes in many forms. With the tools Jerabek is giving his students, they are gaining more than just good grades – they are learning to listen to something other than the voice of  fear.