Several bloggers have reflected on their teachers this week, which has made me do the same.
Those who have come before me in my own family and those who have taught me have had the most influence in helping me to discern my own calling to teach. My grandfather taught high school mathematics for over 53 years. Several years into my own career as a mathematics teacher, he passed along his box of calculus teaching materials, along with the admonishment to take good care of it in case he needed it back some day. My grandfather celebrates his 99th birthday tomorrow. I’m not sure he would still say at this point that he will want his teaching materials back, but he is still active in his community. He attended a retired teachers’ lunch meeting earlier this week and will attend a distinguished alumnae luncheon tomorrow for his school district. My family and I reserved a place on his calendar Saturday afternoon to celebrate his birthday.
My grandmother, aunt, mother, sister-in-law, and mother-in-law have also been teachers, running the gamut of subjects between 2nd grade, special needs, music, and middle school English. My family encouraged me to enter the teaching profession, offering both their emotional and financial support, rather than discouraging me from teaching, as many of my friends’ parents did, because of teachers’ salaries. My husband and daughters continue to support me in this calling.
My love of school and my desire to teach was evident early on as my sister and I used to play school, lining up our dolls for lessons, using carbon paper to create multiple copies of tests that our “students” worked so that we could perform the ultimate teacher duty of grading papers. Of course I know now that grading papers is not the ultimate duty of my profession, but I am grateful that I knew early in my life that I wanted to teach, because that helped me pay more attention to my teachers.
As my students and I enter the practice of learning each day, I recognize parts of all of my teachers: Mrs. Berry helped me make connections between algebra and geometry to greatly increase my own understanding of mathematics, and she taught me how to clearly communicate that understanding to others. I often hear myself say, “I’ll buy that” to an explanation like I heard Mrs. Berry say to us. And because of our focus on the Standards for Mathematical Practice, I now hear myself asking my students “Do you buy that?” after someone has given an explanation to the class.
Dr. McMath taught me that each method we learn for solving problems is another “tool” to add to our bag of mathematical tools. My bag is overflowing because of all of the different types of problems he introduced to me. Hopefully, my students’ bags are at least a little more full after they consider the problems that I assign to them.
Dr. Travis taught me to sit down and let the students teach each other, “passing the pen” from student to student, as we have conversations together about important concepts and applications. Dr. Travis taught me not to be concerned with an answer as much as the process for getting an answer. He helped me develop good, logical arguments for the mathematics that we studied; I try to do the same with my students.
Dr. Floyd gave me a strong foundation in the history of mathematics, teaching me to incorporate math history into my lessons, getting students interested just enough to learn more about a mathematician on their own outside of class. Her own travels overseas made the stories that she told come alive … you could see it in her eyes and hear it in her voice.
Dr. Leavelle shared with us interesting tasks from his visit to Japan that I still pose to my students. His wealth of practical applications for modeling with mathematics are now mine to use with my own students as we seek to understand how engineers and physicians and developers really use the algorithms that we are learning in our classroom.
Dr. Gann’s energy and enthusiasm for mathematics cannot help but show as my students and I develop formulas and prove theorems to add to our deductive system. Dr. Gann taught us the importance of saying what we really mean mathematically, and when she was doing so, she always lifted her hand close to her mouth for emphasis, a habit which is apparently now one of mine … my AP Calculus students asked me to remind them to attend to precision one last time (and lift my hand to my mouth when I did) before I sent them to take their AP exam on Wednesday.
At this point, I am no longer attending class with the professors from whom I have learned so much. But I am still attending class with great teachers … they just all happen to be younger than I.
And so thankfully, the lifelong journey of learning continues …