Tuesday, August 7, 2018


I am so excited to be a part of the Virtual Conference on Mathematical Flavors, where we are answering the question: "What flavor of mathematics are you serving up in your classroom?"  As Sam Shah wrote in his call for presenters, we're exploring the big-picture ideas that govern our classroom culture, as opposed to the more nuts-and-bolts that typically dictate our blog posts.  I hope that you'll join us!

I'll be honest: this question has been circulating in my mind for a while.  What flavor am I serving? 

I love quotes.  My classroom is filled with quotes I've attempted to hand letter as well as a new quote of the week every Monday. So, I think I will let quotes guide this conversation...

Also, a disclaimer.  When I talk about "my classroom" please recognize that I am talking about my ideal classroom; in other words, what I want  my classroom to look like and feel like, not necessarily what it looks like and feels like on a day-to-day to basis.  I would love to engage every single student every single day.  But I don't.  Not even close.  So, these flavors I'm describing...they're my dreams and ambitions...

Flavor #1:  We belong to each other
"There's no such thing as other people's children."
-Glennon Melton

My first "flavor" is to build a classroom culture where my kids understand that I want to be with them, that they belong to me, and that they belong to each other.  I need them to know that they make me happy and proud.  I need them to know that I love spending my day with them.  If I didn't, why would I leave this adorable two-year-old Monday-Friday for them?

Cutie, am I right?

My utmost hope for every one of my students--even more than learning any math--is that they become kind, compassionate, inclusive, and empathetic adults.  And I encourage them to practice kindness, compassion, inclusion, and empathy every day in the classroom by treating them with the same respect.  When it's sixth hour and a student has asked me a question I have already answered twenty-eight times that day, I force myself to answer it with the same level of patience that I did with my top student from first hour.  Because everyone belongs.  Everyone's in.  There are no cliques, no cool kids, no outcasts.  They're all my kids.  They're all worth my energy. 

In turn, I expect to see that patience reciprocated in my classroom.

And I hope it extends beyond my four walls.

Flavor #2:  No one gets left behind
"Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.'"
-Jesus, as recalled in Luke 15: 4-7

My school's mission is "100% graduation; 100% college- and career-ready."  In the spirit of transparency, there are days I resent that statement: the days when students throw that in our faces, for example. ("What are you gonna do?  Fail me?  100% graduation, remember?")

No.  I'm not going to fail them (which I consider to be different than their earning an F).  I will fight for them.  I won't give up.  I'll leave the 99 (or shall I say 149) for the one.  I will model reckless love:  the kind of love that doesn't make sense, the kind of love that keeps no record of wrong, that is unconditional, that comes back again and again, that sees the best and believes the best--even when they don't.

Every story is one that should be heard and should influence my practice.  In an effort to make this message of belonging clear, last year I met with all eighty-nine of my calculus students the first nine weeks of school one-on-one to learn their stories.  Some "interviews" lasted ten minutes; some an hour and a half.  We met before school, during lunch, during my plan, and after school.  It was exhausting; I never had a free moment.  But it was absolutely worth it.  My hope was to make this message of:  "I am here for you; I'm not going anywhere" loud and clear.  My desire was to learn their stories and to hopefully show them that their stories are important to me.  I wanted them to know that even in a school of 3300 students, they matter to me.

In turn, I expect them to show themselves love and kindness, because "everyone is fighting a hard battle"--including ourselves.  I expect them not to give up on themselves--or me.  I expect them to fight for themselves, for their stories, for their voice, and for their passions.

And I hope that perseverance and that fight extends beyond my four walls.

Flavor #3:  Gratitude
"Every day may not be good, but there is something good in every day."
-Alice Morse Earl

I come from a long line of pessimists.  And as most pessimists, we prefer the term "realists."  Six years ago I came across the One Good Thing Blog, which is a space where educators write at least one good thing that happened in their classroom that day.  I've made it a practice to write something every day for the last six years.  The only times I miss a day are when I'm home sick or with a sick child.  Six years ago was when I made the switch from teaching college to high school.  It was a rough transition for me.  I had dreamed of being a professor since before I had a high school diploma.  And all of a sudden I found myself sharing this space with thirty-six teenagers who rotated out every fifty-five minutes, who seemed to want nothing to do with my content nor with me.  It was a difficult time.  This blog was one of the things that rescued me.  I fully believe now--after 810 posts--that my brain has been rewired to look for the good that occurs.  And not only look for it, but celebrate it.

As a dear friend and mentor says, "We are what we celebrate."

And so I celebrate the good that my students add to my life and to each other's lives every day.  Because that's who we are.

A couple of years after I started contributing to this blog, I began asking my students to write "one good thing" every now and then.  I realized that many of them had no idea I wrote every day about the good that goes on in our room; and in addition to modeling that discipline for them, I also wanted them to practice it.

In turn, I hope they practice this habit as often as is useful to them.  I hope they look for the good that is all around them, because it is all around them.

And I hope that dedication and celebration extends beyond my four walls.

What does this have to do with mathematics?

Maybe nothing.  Maybe everything.  But these are the things that kept coming to my mind every time I sat down to write about my classroom. 

I love mathematics.  I have two degrees in it.  But mathematics is merely the tool used to teach bigger life lessons in my classroom. 

In my room, we use mathematics to understand that we know very little of the universe.

We use mathematics to form complete and thorough arguments in our justifications.

We use mathematics as a way to learn how we learn and how our friends learn.

We use mathematics as a way to feel pride in ourselves and in our hard work.

We use mathematics to celebrate both our shortcomings and hence our accomplishments.

We use mathematics as a way to recognize that our work is better when others help.

We use mathematics as a common language, no matter our native tongue.

We use mathematics as a tool for understanding that there may be many solutions to a problem.  Still, there may be one most elegant solution.

We use mathematics for all these things; but at the end of the day, these things are the backdrop to the main production:  grace.

Grace is the real theme I want in my classroom.  I learned recently that the Greek word for grace is charis, which literally means "reaching, leaning, or stooping down in kindness."

And that's what I want mathematics--yes, mathematics--to feel like in my classroom.  I want my kids' experience with math to be one where they feel I am leaning in with them--all in--to offer all the kindness and support they need to be successful.  So that at the end of the year, whether they came in loving math or hating math or something in between, that they can say, "I am smart.  I am worth it.  I am valuable."

At the end of the day, that's our mission:  adding value to kids.

Everyone's in.  Everyone's seen and heard.  Everyone's worth it.


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