Saturday, August 07, 2010

Profiles in Greatness Ep. 5

Not long ago a student told me I should be a math teacher because I was able to walk her through a problem in a logical sequential manner. That might have been the funniest moment of my teaching career; anyone who knows me understands my math deficiency. But it made me think about why I was able to explain the very simple problem to her.

Mr. Corbett and Mr. Mruk (Algebra 1 and Algebra 2)
These are two of the smartest teachers I can recall. Perhaps it was their math prowess which overwhelmed me and thus proved their intelligence as superior to all, but I knew that they knew what they were doing. I did not know what I was doing.
Math requires attention to detail, a focus on the process. This doesn't mesh well with either my big picture mentality or my undiagnosed ADD. I remember a sense of regularly messing up with details, especially in math class. I wanted to solve the problem without putting in the effort.
Both Mr. Corbett and Mr. Mruk effectively taught the concepts of math and the details of math. They both were capable of patiently walking me through a formula or equation. Though I feared math in general, I rarely feared it in their class. Making mistakes were part of the learning process, and I made plenty of them.
A testament to their effectiveness is the still strange fact that my SAT Math score was slightly higher than my SAT Verbal score. Sure, I bailed on math during my senior year, opting for a much easier course than Calculus--it was clear in the first two weeks I wasn't willing to push myself to get it.
However, that experience with that student reminded me of the patience needed in order to teach any concept. And upon reflection, I know that both Mr. Corbett and Mr. Mruk were both long ago influencers in my development as a teacher--though I am not nearly as patient as I remember them being.
For teaching me the importance of teaching in sequence, of instructing with patience, and of communicating through knowledge, thank you.


At 6:21 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Curiously, you stated that these teachers systematically taught you the process of math through sequencing and patience. Both are important when learning any subject. You learn you alphabet and letter sounds prior to reading.

I am more interested in if any teacher pushed you outside your comfort zone. Taking calculus would have done this, yet you opted out. I am curious to know how you reconcile this, with a teachers desire to push students to see what they can achieve.

At 11:49 AM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

I think that pushing someone beyond their comfort zone requires a latent potential within the unknowing student. What I mean is that sometimes challenging a student beyond what they are capable of can have disastrous results, especially in the area of self-confidence.
I recall a chapter in Tom Rath's How Full is Your Bucket? examining how we tend to focus on where students are not "great" and challenge them to improve, yet we don't challenge them to improve where they are already good. Had I possessed a latent ability in math, or simply lacked confidence, then pushing me into calculus would have been appropriate. However, I didn't. I recall the pain of confusion, the fear of the remainder of the year.
Great teachers recognize when students can succeed and don't put them into positions in which they will fail. Calculus is a higher level skill not a general skill needed by all--or accessible by all.
I respect teachers who don't have the "everyone can do everything great" mentality. Realism has been lost in education.

At 10:50 AM , Blogger GreenPilot said...

very glad to see you are back blogging.

I am curious, as you mentioned in your comments above, your further thoughts on whether or not anyone can be taught anything. I seem to share your beliefs but, would enjoy reading your expanded thoughts on that matter.


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