Math and me

picture compliments of

picture compliments of

I am teaching grade 4-6 math this year. When I was asked, I agonized and stalled, then worried that I’d made the wrong decision. I didn’t want it to take too much away from my already limited writing time.

Math and I have an odd relationship. As a kid, I was quick out of the gate to “get,” that thing called math. Learning math was a physical rush. Numbers felt comfortable and friendly in my head. Patterns peeked smiling from all kinds of places.

Life happened and I began to see and believe that “real” math people innately understood things I didn’t. There was an “it” they had that I lacked. I still loved patterns and numbers but our friendship was private.

Grade seven math was the first class I was ever given to teach. The head of the math department was a legendary calculus teacher. That year it was my nervous lot to teach his son. Several times the legend found me. Each time I expected to be discovered for my lack of realness. “You’re a born math teacher,” he would say.  I told him of the myriad English courses, but not a single university level math course to my credit. “You’re a born math teacher,” he replied unphased.

That summer I signed up for a university Calculus course hoping to convince myself that he was right about me being a born math teacher. The first class was only housekeeping, but I could feel the thrill of math in the air. I sat down that night eager to read the textbook, but none of it seemed real. Just little exercises for the sake of exercising. Was there even a point? For a pop quiz the next day someone began pouring blue water into a bottle. “Write the function of the blue water going into the bottle,” said the monotone grad student conducting the class.

This moment came with a great deal of clarity. I didn’t care even the tiniest bit what the function of the blue water was. I left and found a course whose functions interested me considerably more (a women’s studies course, if you’re curious).

Meanwhile, anytime I was asked to teach a math class I said yes. The irony was always that, as much as I love teaching English (and I really did love it), I was always a better math teacher. I privately debated the possible existence of a born math teacher with no knowledge of higher math. A 2003 book, “The Myth of Ability” by John Mighton, said it was more than possible, so I made it my bible and never looked back.

Math is about magic. Teaching math is about inspiring magicians. Unexpectedly  back at a chalkboard, I’m not sure how all the balancing will work. I’m 80% through my novel’s umpteenth rewrite. I have the blog and have other writing things on the go. But fifteen minutes into the first math class I knew that sometimes magic trumps time. People in love don’t worry about the time spent together that could have been used for other things. Teaching math is like that for me.

My concession to reality is to keep County Road 21 postings to twice a week. The number of typos and grammatical errors may trend upwards.The times I can’t manage a post may increase. But in the long run I believe that my writing and teaching math will make fine friends.

So here’s to the magic!

7 Comments to Math and me

  1. Barb Shay says:

    When I heard your original grade 7 students in the hall singing “whatever you do to the bottom, you have to do to the top,” I thought, anyone who can get kids to sing about fractions is some teacher! I’m thrilled that you are back teaching math & inspiring kids!

  2. Leslie Lynch says:

    Writers are multidimensional beings. Every writer I know has another passion that creates the magic you are talking about. So go indulge yourself and help kids at the same time – and be thrilled at the new life that is breathed into your writing!

    PS: Your novel is awesome. I suggest you begin to shop it around to a wider audience than you have before, and start thinking about your next one. You can have more than one workin progress at a time. ?

    • Michelle says:

      My works in progress are: novel, Boy one, Boy two, Girl one, Girl two . . . plus a lot of outlines and ideas. :) Someday though…. :)

  3. Sam Jones says:

    Magic indeed. PS I won’t even catch the typos =)

  4. Rachel says:

    I guess we can concede that turning kids on to math is worth the loss of a few missed morning blogs!