As I told you on Monday, I plan to share with you three teachers who have impacted my life in very different, but still profound ways.
Today I’m going to tell you about Sam.
To give you a tiny bit of background, you should know that I struggled with math the entire time I was in school from younger grades on up. In the fifth grade, I remember struggling with long division so badly that I had to be pulled for extra support to the back table.
One day I sat at the back table and was getting extra support but nothing “made sense” to me. I didn’t understand why I had to put this number here and that number there. And so I started to cry. Right there at the kidney table with all of my peers watching.
My teacher pulled me aside and asked why I was crying. I was too embarrassed to admit that it was because I still didn’t get it so I lied and told her my grandpa was sick. She got me a poem book, sent me back to my seat with a piece of paper, and told me to choose a poem to copy and give to my grandpa that might make him happy. Yes, I totally took advantage of my teacher’s heart. Yes, I feel bad about it to this day.
Math continued on that path well past my first two college math classes. I had labeled myself “bad at math” and hoped that I knew the basics well enough to be a decent teacher.
I took my first math theory class for elementary teachers and suddenly started liking math. I still got a “C” in the class. It opened my mind, though.
Then I took my math methods class. The class was one of the first BSU offered of its kind. Sending teachers out with a different approach to teaching math at the elementary level. It was a new way for me to look at math. It was completely different and I liked it. Sam was my teacher.
We had to solve problems using ANY strategy, not a strategy that was provided for us. So he gave us a problem and I used a picture to solve it. Modeling good teaching, he came by and questioned my rationale for using the strategy and after I explained it to him he said, “You have a good problem-solving mind.” That was the very first time anyone had ever complimented my ability to do math. EVER. And even though I was twenty, I grinned like an eight-year old.
Throughout the semester, my self esteem increased by leaps and bounds. My ability to see the world mathematically improved. I finally started to get answers to the questions like “Why do I put this number here and that number there?” “How would I solve this problem?” “Why do I have to do that?” I always needed those answers. Most kids don’t, but it makes them more mathematically knowledgeable to know the answers to those questions anyway. I saw the value in that approach immediately. I started to learn that sometimes you don’t have to solve it that way, but that there were many ways. I began to honest to goodness, like math.
Sam gave that to me. He not only taught me how to teach others, but he taught me to understand what I would be teaching well enough to teach it thoroughly.
I graduated and started my first teaching job in the middle of the year. I wanted a resource from something I had learned in Sam’s class and I emailed him. I was no longer his student. He didn’t need to respond, but he did. And he told me if I ever needed anything to just ask.
Fast forward another year and a half. My school became part of a math grant based out of a research project from Boise State. This research project was based off of the things I learned while in college, a reform-based mathematics classroom. I was thrilled. I hadn’t been quiet about my belief in this approach. My principal started the meeting about that with my team with, “This will be an easy sell for Sharlee. For the rest of you, it’s going to take a little more work.”
And I was thrilled and didn’t hide it for a second. Who should I end up working alongside but Sam? Seriously.
I still work with him. I have a role in my building and sometimes Sam comes to visit. I tell the story about my history of hating to loving math with my kids every year. My kids are always so surprised because math is “my thing.” It is the thing I look forward to when I get up in the morning. It is my favorite thing to plan for. It is my biggest passion. My kids cannot fathom that I ever didn’t like it. It always surprises them. When Sam stops by for the first time I tell the kids, “This is Mr. S. He’s the one who helped me learn to like math.”
And every time I introduce Sam to them, I nearly tear up (and sometimes I do). Maybe it’s silly and I’m not sure he’d even understand it (In fact I’m sure he wouldn’t. He often tells me that I have a sensitivity to the world that he doesn’t have, but he admires). I am so incredibly grateful for him.
He turned my world around. In a million years I never would have thought I would be a math teacher. I thought I would teach math, but I didn’t think that would be something I would own, the way I did reading. But I own it and then some.
If you were to tell anyone who knew me prior to that class, they would be just as surprised. One class. One teacher. I am a better teacher for it. And what’s more is this passion has taken me on a career path that I never planned to go down. I’m working on a teacher leadership endorsement specifically for math. I have a leadership position in my building. I’m always looking for committees, professional development opportunities, and hopefully someday a job that will allow me to further this passion of mine.
All from a one semester class. One teacher who helped me tap into a passion I didn’t know I had. I had no idea I had it in me. That is the mark of a good teacher. And I am forever grateful.