“The spirit behind such games should be a spirit of joy, foolishness, exuberance, like the spirit behind all good games, including the game of trying to find out how the world works, which we call education.”
– John Holt, How Children Learn
Beyond its utility or beauty, mathematics – and the teaching of math – grips me with the promise of joyful discovery. All of my most meaningful mathematical memories have been less about competition and more about connection. Filling a whiteboard with invented notation that makes us laugh on an extension that has our hearts pounding, a tiny notepad whipped out past midnight to share a favorite proof with a tired/huddled/eager group of math teachers, a student who walks laps with me around the B-hall to discuss his mathematical wonderings, posing puzzler after puzzler at red lights during a city bike ride (shouting hints while avoiding train tracks), waiting patiently for the visible “aha” to light in the eyes of a student at work – once-timid, now powerful problem solver.
It’s in this spirit of joyful curiosity that I close one chapter of my teaching career and begin another. I spent two years nestled in my childhood home, teaching at the high school I attended as an awkward teenage daydreamer. I grew closer to my sisters. I said goodbye to my grandfather. I struggled in a way I hadn’t before, and learned I have worth – I am worthy – full stop. I learned just a bit more about building a positive classroom culture with classes of 30. I fell in love with all species of freshmen – loud, angsty, serious, eager, anxious, silly – all endlessly surprising. I adjusted to the grind of daily 47 minute classes and developed routines and procedures that maximized most of the minutes we spent together. I was welcomed as a colleague by former teachers, chaperoned trips I used to participate in, and on Fridays wore a T-shirt that said “Bruin for Life” on my 7 minute commute to work down the same streets where I learned to drive.
Up next is a new adventure, vividly imagined but far from begun. What I’d like: to root myself in my new community. To be more focused in my professional growth. To collaborate with and learn from colleagues who bring vastly different experiences to our meeting. To walk alongside my students as we try to find out how the world works.
“I never want to be where I cannot see it. All that energy and foolishness, all that curiosity, questions, talk, all those fierce passions, inconsolable sorrows, immoderate joys…”
How I hope as I journey forth that joy remains central to my approach of the teaching of mathematics, and the being of human.