Thursday, August 3, 2017

My Math Autobiography

"I want to be a math teacher when I grow up."

Not even lying, that was something I would say quite often when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. I always loved math; it always came easy to me, I loved "playing" in math, I was really great at memorizing algorithms and my times tables; it just seemed like a natural fit. I had wonderful elementary school teachers who fostered that love for education, and especially math. 

I can't say I got my love of math from my parents, even though they were the best parents anyone could ask for. My dad is a genius and can design and engineer the most incredible super high-tech machines and systems. My mother always feels like she isn't smart enough for anything, and she always had that self-doubt. Whenever it was homework time, from kindergarten all through high school, I was left to my own devices to get it done. But I was self-motivated enough that I would come right home and immediately do all my homework by myself, without being prompted and without asking for help. (Yes, I'm a nerd) 

When I got to high school there was a shift. I had one particularly horrible Trigonometry teacher. Don't get me wrong, he was a very nice, old man, but he was so clueless and would teach the entire class with his back to us and just writing problem after problem on the board and dictating algorithms for us to scribble in our notebooks. True story: kids used to sit in the back of my class and smoke pot. That's how clueless he was. I passed his class with an A because 1. I sat in the front row away from the smoke clouds (reminder, I'm a nerd) 2. I taught it all to myself and 3. I practiced a ton at home.

I had a freshly out of college young woman teacher for my Geometry class. This could have been my chance to reignite my passion for math, but again, she fell short. First, she had to ward off unwelcome advances by the boys in our class (gross). Even though she was a new teacher, I think she used the same pedagogical methods as she learned math, therefore she, too, would stand at the front of the board and just lecture, and lecture and lecture and expect us to copy the theorems verbatim into our notebooks. I didn't understand geometry, and I still don't beyond a 5th grade level.

Nevertheless, I persisted. 😉

I started my freshman year of college undeclared but with full intentions of enrolling in the education major. I took Honors Finite Mathematics my first semester of college and I got a C.  

A friggin C. 

Never in my life had I received any grade lower than a B+ (in case you forgot, I'm a nerd) So that one grade was devastating enough for me to question my entire direction in life. I met with my advisor immediately and she noticed that I really loved to write and she enjoyed my writing, so she nudged me in the direction of communications and marketing (of which she was the head of). I happily took her advice and got my bachelor's 3.5 years later in communications. I worked at an advertising agency for a year right out of college, and when I was burnt out from that, I went back to graduate school to finally pursue my passion for teaching.

I became an elementary school teacher and taught all of the subjects to various grade levels for several years. With so much going on, I never felt like an expert in any one subject by any stretch. Then, for a few years, I was only teaching literacy. So naturally I thought, "Oh my god, I love literacy, I want to become a reading specialist." Thankfully, after a few years, I landed in a different school teaching only math. The first 3 weeks were full of tears, like every damn day full-on bawling my eyes out. 

Then my math coach came in and saved me!

She talked me off the ledge and worked with me to fully understand each standard, helped me structure my math block so it worked for the kids and me, and made me love, love, LOVE math again. Every day was a complete joy; I was having a blast, the kids were having the time of their lives, and my principal was seeing results in the standardized test scores. I think every day I would hear at least one kid say, "I love math!" or "Math is my favorite subject!" YESSSS! As a math educator, that's all you hope for! I was giving my students a positive environment to play and learn math. 

One of my colleagues suggested to me during this time that I try to get my Mathematics license so I could become a math coach or specialist myself. I thought that was a great idea, so I started studying very hard; got myself a tutor, watched every Kahn academy video possible and reached out to every middle school math teacher I could find for resources. (For some insane reason the educator licensure tests for Massachusetts license you for Grades 1-6, but the content on the test is Grades 1-10) After a few months of intense studying, I went to the testing place for my 4 hour math test with so many butterflies in my stomach I could've opened an arboretum. I worked right up until my time was up. Scores came back 2 months later and I passed, with flying colors! "Answered correctly most or all areas" for every subtopic of the test, well except geometry of course. 

I had one especially horrible day at school a few months later. On a whim I checked for job postings on Schoolspring to see if there were any math coach or math specialist teachers open. I found 2 in the town right next door to where I live. I applied for both and got interviews for both. The first school did not hire me, but the second one did. 

From that point on, I completely and utterly immersed myself in the social world of the #MTBoS (Math Twitter Blogosphere) and soaked it all in. I was learning all about revolutionary practices from inspiring educators all over the world. But I wasn't participating. I was lurking. 

Eventually I worked up the courage to make comments and reply, even post my own original thoughts. I haven't looked back since. Every single day I'm learning something new about math and math education. All of the books I've read in the last few months have been professional math-related books, and I don't even care! All day every day I get to think about, play with, and teach math and I am loving every second of it!

I'm fortunate enough to have just signed on to teach Math Methods at Endicott College in MA. I can't even wait to share my passion for math with these pre-service students/soon-to-be-teachers. I just hope it's contagious enough that I'll hear them say, "Math is my favorite subject!"

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