We Are Stories.

“I am just a human being trying to make it in a world that is rapidly losing its understanding of being human.” -John Trudell

A couple days ago, I was having a chat with Barry Garelick, and I posed a challenge to the general Twitter-sphere to bust down one barrier that had been put up.

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Originally, I had planned an apology-type post to Jo Boaler for past transgressions (perhaps coming later); however, some interesting things have come up over the past two days that made me think about a more important barrier that has been erected over the past two years: the barrier to myself and to my happiness.

You see, it is very easy to forget your abilities, skills and self-worth when you are constantly receiving messages that your opinions and efforts are not valued. So I want to take the time today to break down the barrier that others have erected – the barrier to my self-worth, and to my happiness. The barrier to myself.

This weekend I have been attending a holistic education conference, and have been doing some inner reflecting. One of the prompts I was asked to write about today was “Describe something positive about yourself.” To be honest, I left it blank because I didn’t think I could find anything positive about myself to write about. After answering all the other prompts, I returned back to this one, and began reflecting over my most recent vacation to Ontario. What was it that others saw within me? Why did people want to meet and talk with me? I am just a nobody from a small-town in Ontario, population: 3 cows. Eventually, my pencil started moving and I wrote about story-telling and using story-telling to create connections to others:

“I enjoy story-telling, especially hearing the stories of others. To me, I believe this helps foster true connection and empathy. Even when I don’t know what to say, I will be there to share in whatever emotional space presents itself.”

I wasn’t prepared for what happened next. Much to my dread, we had to share our written responses with someone else. Here is what I received:

We are stories. It is who we are and at the heart of what makes us human.”

Wow. Such powerful and insightful words. But they were true. I have been so caught up in the hustle of the math wars. For example, I cared too deeply about what “side” others were perceiving me to be on. That, in turn, ended up defining my self-worth. Honestly, it was exhausting. Over the past several weeks, sharing stories with some awesome individuals, and spending much time reflecting inwards, I have come to the conclusion that I don’t want to choose a “side.” And if that makes me a traitor to some, then so be it. I have come to the conclusion that I cannot make everyone happy with my educational philosophy, but also that I cannot continue my journey at the expense of my own happiness.

I want to spend some time now sharing some of my fondest memories teaching mathematics with you. Below is a picture from when I taught multivariable calculus. If Pi Day happens to fall during class time, I will let the students bring in various pies and share. During the final few moments of this class, we took the picture below. I still keep in touch with some of these students, and am proud to say a couple are graduating from the Faculty of Education this year. One is even designing the ties for my wedding party!

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Celebrating Pi Day with my multivariable calculus students.

Flipping my linear algebra class was one of the best experiences of my teaching career. With only about 15 students, it allowed me time to really hone in on their mathematical abilities and get to know them on a more one-on-one basis. They were one of the most high-achieving (and high-energy) classes I have ever taught. I think the picture sums up the class very well (this group had won the “Determinants Game Show” and were pretty excited). If you are curious about the E>0 reference, I called them my “epsilons” and told them to always “stay positive.”

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Flipped linear algebra + cake = great class. E>0 is a subtle joke to the endings of my YouTube videos.

Staying positive is something I struggle with on a daily basis, but I am beginning to realize that there are individuals who truly do value my opinions and are interested in the skills that I bring to the table. One thing I have done in my office is create a space for me to collect tokens of gratitude. This space reminds me that, no matter what challenges I am facing, there are individuals who look up to you for motivation and reassurance. It reminds me that I am doing good and that I should be proud of my accomplishments. I highly recommend everyone to do the same, as we all run into days where we doubt our abilities and sometimes we need reassurance that we are on the right path.

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My ‘shrine’ of accomplishments: an oriental plate from the International College, a Starbucks mug with my name in linear algebra notation, various thank-you cards, and a box (empty of course, even though my stomach cried for days because I am allergic to dairy) of macarons from Paris. Missing from the photo: Hayden mug, since it is continually on my person.

So, thank you for allowing me to share my struggles and accomplishments, and my stories (I have a few more logical and argumentative posts coming soon, I promise!). If you would like to reciprocate the story-telling I would honestly love that. Please feel free to share a positive moment as a teacher or educator, to remind yourself and others that we all have moments worthwhile to share and to be proud of.

Let us all break down the walls that have been put up, and let our humanity out.

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3 Comments on “We Are Stories.

  1. Thank you for these words – I quit my district teaching job a year ago because it was too hard to remember the positive in the stories that were running through my head! I have been incredibly fortunate to be in a different position that allows me to focus on building teachers up – instead of nitpicking and tearing down. I do not know the context of your math wars – but I do know that ‘education wars’ are being fought in too many districts. Telling our stories is such a profound way to move beyond the issue to the people.
    Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. RE: “….individuals who look up to you for motivation and reassurance”
    I don’t know you but you’ve acknowledged me now and then on twitter, and it’s meant alot to me that someone who doesn’t know me at all is willing to take a moment to be supportive of how I think about and present the way I approach math. Not only has your response impacted how I feel about proceeding, but it also underlines for me how important it is for me to continue to be supportive of people who I don’t know…thus your influence in this way resonates. It would have never occurred to me that someone (you) who can inspire such richness would have self-worth issues….thanks for this post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for your kind words Paula. I am happy and honored to have had such a positive impact on you and your teaching. One day I sincerely hope to have the opportunity to meet you and share our stories. Continue with your amazing work and stay well.

      Liked by 1 person

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