This Glorious Teacher Life
When I was a child, my relationship with mathematics was worthy of Netflix reality tv- that is to say, trashy and not to be modeled by any sensible being. Or paid for. It's not like I didn't understand it, or encountered a branch of math lesson wholly outside of my grasp.
I just did not like the time it took for me to make any progress. Math was something I had to sit with, had to ask clarifying questions about (questions I felt were extremely basic), and had to do a bit of trial and error with before the concept clicked. Once it clicked, I had it, and was off sailing the skies like Kal El's first flight; but everything before that was painful for me. Painful because I didn't understand the wiring of my own brain and the unique way I perceived things; artists are nurtured as artists typically closer to adult age. Back then, there was very little in the way of adaptive education for alternative thinkers.
Which makes me extremely grateful for the parents I had. My mother, the consummate high school math teacher; and my father, the quirky intro to computer technology community college professor. In my teen years, I sat in on- and eventually took- my father's class and witnessed a flow so practiced, I had no way of knowing it was extraordinary. He wasn't just teaching the class material, no that would be far too simple a task and, if you were to ask him, also probably quite boring.
No, my dad filled up the space of his classroom and turned it into his personal theater; wielded improv like a blade in Yasuke's hands. He had his students playing chess, he told jokes, he implemented playful cell phone rules that (on the off chance when he broke them) he also complied with by bringing donuts for the entire class. What resonates with me to this day is that he wove chess into his teaching, because that was something he loved. He brought his passion into the classroom and enhanced the learning process for everyone.
It wasn't just a class for him. He fit his body into the window of forgettable expectation and widened it into a transformative moment; because every single thing he did tied back into the lesson, into the skills they were taking his class to acquire. He wasn't just teaching them to pass the class; he was unlocking pieces of them they would need to pass any class he wasn't in and to succeed at life. Mesmerizing.
And so, if my father was a powerhouse;
my mother was an absolute force of nature.
All of my earliest memories involve us at grocery stores, clothing stores, eating ice cream... when some random person would come up, having recognized my mom from a distance. Praise and gratitude would drip off of their lips, as they recalled the many ways she changed their life back when they were her students. They would stand there talking, sometimes for as long as twenty minutes (a horrifying eternity for a seven year old) as they caught up. The affection in their eyes for my mom was always real. Still is to this day. And she always remembered who they were; details about their lives.
My mom is the one whose classroom was the safe haven; zero nonsense allowed no matter WHO you were, how tough you thought you are, or what you got away with in other classrooms with other teachers. Everyone knew that the endearing Ms. Evans was not to be trifled with. Or- trifled with at your own expense. When parents were at their wit's end, it is my mom they would call to get through to their teenagers; and get through she did. Over the phone. My mother is the one who, despite having several active kids of her own, made sure to attend birthdays, graduations, quinceañeras, and even funerals when her student's lost a loved one.
And with all of this effort and energy put forth, she never lost a beat in the classroom. She could take the driest math lesson and somehow make it connect to the most disinterested mind. There was never a child she didn't present her best efforts to, and her ego was never such that she refused to teach in the best way to support a student's optimal learning ability. She could teach a Masterclass for teachers if given half a chance. My mother genuinely loves every student who calls her classroom home; but even more importantly, they know she does. And they love her back.
This is the educational power and innovation I come from, which so fuels my passion for the art and craft of teaching.
Is teaching hard work? Of course.
Are there some students who simply elude our best efforts?
Do we egregiously drop the ball at times, and have to recalibrate?
We absolutely do.
Is it challenging to do soul work disguised as intellectual work, and then be under compensated for it?
You preaching now.
Does any of this mean we fold into our boxes and require our students to learn in the box?
Not. At. All.
While there are myriad teaching styles, just as there are numerous martial forms, there must be an underlying base of evolution if there is to be progress. A dedication to the end goal, not the memorized book of plays one is most comfortable with; a relentless push beyond form, as Bruce Lee encouraged, into a space where your style preference meets the momentous demand of the moment in beautiful synergy. When teaching becomes like water, adaptive to whatever vessel presented to it, then flow is achieved.
and it is precisely
this state of flow
both in practice
which makes this life of teaching
P.S. It was my mom who brought me around to math. She pivoted and rolled with all of my emotional tides, working over time to affirm my intelligence and eradicate my shame. Because of her, I never failed a math class. Because of her, I can appreciate math (and even like it a little bit). Because of her, I am utterly confident in my ability to pass any math class I may ever need to take again.