Tricia Teaches For…

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Aug 30 2010

Teachers and Apples

Get up offa’ that thing…

Again and again, the impossible problem is solved when we see that the problem is only a tough decision waiting to be made.
Most people who succeed in the face of seemingly impossible conditions are people who simply don’t know how to quit.
Yes, you can be a dreamer and a doer too, if you will remove one word from your vocabulary: impossible.
Anyone can count the seeds in an apple, but only God can count the number of apples in a seed.

- Marilyn vos Savant

I am currently studying for the CSET single-subject tests in mathematics, one on algebra and number theory, and the other on geometry and probability/statistics. I came across the quote above, and it seems to relate to my experience so far with Teach For America. I only recently decided to write about my experience as a 2010 corps member (*pending*), and I am doing so because I have had quite the unique experience out here in Los Angeles. For now I will just explain why I like the quote by Marilyn vos Savant, the woman known for having the highest IQ in the Guinness Book of World Records (when they still held that as a category)…

Again and again, the impossible problem is solved when we see that the problem is only a tough decision waiting to be made:

My “best friend” is currently mathematics. I fall asleep thinking about it, wake up with it already on my mind, and spend all day working with it. Our relationship is shaky, but each day we return to each other and work through our difficulties when problems arise. It is easy to get inside of my head and think, “I was an Economics and Communications major(s). I did not study ordered fields, and what the heck is a ring? Why do I need to say that angle A is equal to angle A (duh!), and who thought up imaginary numbers? They must have been a looney-tune. Or really darn smart.” Yet… at my first LMU graduate class, my professor said, “Find the beauty in mathematics, because it is there.”  Slowly but surely, something that was extremely scary and intimidating became a challenge – it became something that is possible to stare down, and maybe, someday, unravel. Although I am still clinging to the rope of formulas, rules, axioms and theorems for dear life, I know that I will eventually hold that rope and look at it under a microscope. I will see the strands that hold it together. I will… “get” math! Cool!

And I relate this back to my experience transitioning into being a math teacher – I accepted the TFA position. I moved out here (NJ –> CA). I taught 7th and 8th grade math this summer. I did all of that without making a decision about math itself. I did not make the decision to be the best that I could be. I knew I wanted to do this, but I did not make a conscious decision to give math a chance. It is puzzling why we ever do anything to any standard other than the BEST of our ability… but we do. However, my own fear of failing the CSET for a second time propelled me in the right direction. I made the decision to just do it, something I so often fail at doing. “Get up offa’ that thing!… and give math a chance??” A tough decision is only as tough as you decide it should be. So I decided to study. NBD. An impossible problem remains a problem, but at least I am committed to kicking some CSET butt. It is that commitment that has shown me my way back to a long-lost friend.

Most people who succeed in the face of seemingly impossible conditions are people who simply don’t know how to quit:

Along the way I have tried not to quit. After 8 years as a gymnast, I quit. After 5 1/2 years as a pole-vaulter, I quit. But I hate quitting, and a BC friend said to me, “You’re not a quitter, so why start being one now?” A TFA representative recently told me that they are surprised I haven’t given up in this whole CSET debacle. “I thought you would have emergency released after our first conversation.” I hope that my insistence for staying here translates into my “relentless pursuit” in the classroom.

Yes, you can be a dreamer and a doer too, if you will remove one word from your vocabulary: impossible…


Anyone can count the seeds in an apple, but only God can count the number of apples in a seed:

When I meet my students (hopefully on the 13th!!) I know that I will be able to see what is already there. I will be able to give them a diagnostic test that finds out if they can multiply with exponents, if they can add fractions, if they can set up an equation… but! I won’t be able to see how much they can grow from the small seed (inspiration, what what!) I plant in them called encouragement. OR, how far the mini-lessons will take them (learning multiplication tables by heart?). Just like the quote says, only God can count how many apples will be produced by the tree that grew from the tiny seed that is planted.

TMK
–Socrates
The simplest form of math is music

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