Monday, December 5, 2016

My Math Teacher's Kitchen

After reading my previous blog post, you might be wondering what I could possibly be writing about for my last one. As it turns out, I've been planning my last post throughout this entire semester and even though I may not be certain that this career is right for me anymore, I've still been impacted quite a bit by a certain teacher during this time.

This year, to save some money, I decided to live with a friend that lives only five minutes away from the Grand Valley Allendale campus. This friend just so happens to be a teacher, and it also just so happens that eight years ago, I was a student in her math class. Our student to teacher relationship slowly became a coach to coach relationship, slowly transforming us into kinda sorta friends. From here our relationship became that of babysitter to parent and it was only a matter of time before that relationship turned into a strong friend to friend one. I promise it isn't as weird as it sounds.

In any case, now that I'm living in said location, it has become routine for us to get home and swap stories regarding my classes for the day and her teaching experiences for the day. Generally, for some unknown reason, this takes place in the kitchen. Several weeks ago, she (let's just call her Susan) shared a particular experience that I now want to share with all of you.

Susan teaches three different seventh grade math classes during the school day. On one Friday, after she had looked at the total number of missing assignments for each class for the week, she decided a talk needed to be had with one of those three classes. This class, just in one week, had had 39 missing assignments. The other two classes only had two and five missing assignments for the week. Here's how Susan decided to approach the situation: How many of you have ever failed at something the first time you tried it? Almost every hand in the class went up. Susan then told them a story of the first time she tried to jump-rope. The first time she tried, she tripped over the rope and bashed her face on the cement floor of her garage, splitting her chin open bad enough to need stitches. Talk about an epic fail right? (Sorry Susan). Now that she had the attention of the class, Susan kept going. She moved the focus to sports and asked the class, "What if you never practiced for your sports team? What if you just showed up to the games to play, but never did anything to practice or prepare yourself?" This question was met with a lot of "Why would you do that?" and "That would be stupid!" comments from the class. Susan then went on to relate this back to the classroom explaining that this class is the 'game' and homework and other outside of class assignments are the 'practices'. If you don't do the assignments, you're skipping all the practices and expecting to still do just as well in the game as the ones who are doing the assignments. It wasn't because the students couldn't do it, it was because they simply weren't. After Susan played this scenario out and told her students the number of missing assignments they had, it was silent. She ended it like this, "What if I had shown these numbers to the other classes? Would you have been embarrassed?" The whole class nodded yes.

When Susan got home that day, she was so proud of these students. After their conversation, the students had gotten down to business and worked hard for the entire rest of the class time. They understood now that they had the ability to do just as well as the other two classes, they had just needed some encouragement.

Sometimes you just have to show students that they can do it. Sometimes it might take a more personal story to help them see it, but when they do see it, it changes them. I think some of the most important aspects of being a teacher involve this encouragement. In this case, it involved a personal story; an opportunity to be open, to be vulnerable, and to provide a connection.

I know I'm not a teacher yet, and I know that being a teacher probably isn't where I'm going to end up anymore either, but I am still confident that these three things are something we should strive to do in any conversation. I felt the pull to do share what I'm struggling with in my previous blog post even though I didn't necessarily feel super comfortable doing it, and since then I have already connected with others who, wouldn't you know, are dealing with the same thing I am.

In the eight years that I have known Susan so far, she has taught me so much, whether she knows it completely or not. She is the one that originally inspired me to become a teacher, and despite my confusion regarding that now, she continues to inspire me in other aspects of my life. It's amazing what can happen when someone goes out of their way to make a connection, and even if I don't become the next 'Susan', I know that her lessons will continue to influence every part of my life. I only hope that no matter where I end up, I can do the same for others.

So, for the last time, I am a math teacher in the making (maybe), a fellow math nerd, and these are just some of my thoughts. Thanks for reading.