...a companion blog to "Math-Frolic," specifically for interviews, book reviews, weekly-linkfests, and longer posts or commentary than usually found at the Math-Frolic site.

"Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty – a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture, without appeal to any part of our weaker nature, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music, yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show." ---Bertrand Russell (1907) Rob Gluck

"I have come to believe, though very reluctantly, that it [mathematics] consists of tautologies. I fear that, to a mind of sufficient intellectual power, the whole of mathematics would appear trivial, as trivial as the statement that a four-legged animal is an animal." ---Bertrand Russell (1957)

******************************************************************** Rob Gluck

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Teachers In Our Lives

                            "Reach out and touch someone...
                                              -- old AT&T ad slogan

I attended (long enough ago that a 50-year reunion is coming up!) a private secondary school where the phrase “in loco parentis” was oft-discussed. In case any don’t know, it translates to ‘in place of the parent’ which carried one meaning, or at least set of applications, for our school administrators, and rather different interpretations favored by we students. At a private boarding school teachers/administrators, as the primary adults that students see each-and-every day, really must take on the partial role of substitute parent. But even in the public school system almost all students will experience at least a few teachers who partly play that role.

I won’t claim that I had very many teachers who had a strong or major impact on my life or career, but there were probably a couple. Moreover, there were teachers who even without impacting my career I simply enjoyed learning from; who made education what it should be: something to relish and look forward to.
Two years ago in an idle moment I looked up my favorite teacher from 7th grade on the internet only to discover he had just passed away a few months prior.  I think at the time I had him for class he knew how much I enjoyed him… but in the 50+ years since I had no contact with him.
I look back now with some regret of how few of these educators I ever re-touched base with after taking their class; and the few I did, how infrequently; realizing only later in life how much it probably meant to them to hear positively from former students; even just a small note of appreciation, a Christmas card, a phone call, an acknowledgement that they were fondly remembered or had an impact…

I bring this all up now because of a poignant, personal entry Patrick Honner posted about a recent experience he had relating to the challenge of teaching and the "constant struggle to find... the balance between expectations and patience; between being tough and being understanding; between pushing a young person and letting them be":

...And one of the reasons I savor (and suspect we all do!) Fawn Nguyen’s writings about teaching, is because of the love for her students that shines through her musings (even when she's employing 4-letter words!), and that delicate dance teachers do between being teacher/parent/friend/disciplinarian, pulling students in close while still maintaining a distance… and never knowing if, once they leave your school, you will ever hear from them again.
Almost exactly 4 years ago I had occasion to ask Fawn (via email) what her favorite post on her blog was and she cited one. I don’t know for sure if 4 years later it’s still her top pick, and until the very end it doesn’t even have that much to do with the teacher/student relationship, but it’s still one I’ll offer up here (and if you can reach the end without a tear in your eye, well….):

Finally, I’m reminded too of a favorite timeless volume occasionally touted here for any who have missed it:  Steve Strogatz’s “The Calculus of Friendship,” about his lifetime relationship with a high school math teacher; on one level based upon a shared love of calculus, but of course at a different level much more (…and by the way there’s real math in it as well).

Anyway, readers here probably all know of Patrick, Fawn, and Steve… I don’t need to draw any more attention their way. What I do hope to do though is maybe make you think, amidst this season of graduations, about the teachers in your own lives who were somehow special or inspiring or supportive, who perhaps parented you along the way a bit even if you only realized it much later.  Get in touch, let them know, drop an email; it’s only too late if they pass from this Earth never knowing.


Addendum:  In a bit of coincidence, Patrick Honner informs me that (unbeknownst to me) this week is national “Teacher Appreciation Week” ….sometimes the world operates in mysterious ways ;)

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