Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Thank A Teacher Month

There were several moments I remember from my educational pursuits. A third grade teacher who read to us, my fourth grade teacher's kindness to an odd little boy with severe allergies, meeting a new friend in Junior High during desegregation, flunking out of college for lack of effort, going back as an adult husband and father and making straight A's. I've already written about Dr. Catherine Futral so I need to testify to the power of a math teacher to dispel fear, uncertainty, and doubt.

Hazel Struby wasn't a full time professor at Mercer University. She was what they called "adjunct faculty", which I'm sure to the administration meant "not a tenured educator", but in my experience then and many times since to me has meant "knows what they are talking about and loves to teach it." Kind of a play on the old "those that can't..." rip on the teaching profession - Hazel Struby (and many others like her I have known) both could DO and could TEACH thank you very much.

She had taught in the public schools, and in a local private school, but now and then taught at Mercer, helping people solve the riddle of Math. Well friends, Math to me was more of a primal fear than a riddle, because in my last encounters with it, both of which happened in my immature youth... Math had whipped my butt. I had become, after a very promising start all through elementary and junior high school, Math's whipping boy. I was that team the Harlem Globetrotters played every week. Looked good on paper - filled with former college stars - but somehow managed to lose every single stinking time. Geometry - F, Trig - F, College Trig - F. I gave up on Math, but here I was in college trying to get a Business degree to help my family prosper and make my wife and my Mother proud.

"I can't do Math" I said.

Hazel heard all that from me and laughed out loud. Not just an "I'm amused" laugh, but an "you are the funniest thing I have ever seen" laugh.

She told me I was looking at Math the wrong way. "Math is a puzzle begging to be solved. It lays clues all over the place, never acts in any way other than the way it always has. Math is like those crooks on the Darwin awards. You can whip it with half your brain tied behind your back - if you are willing to work. I guarantee it."

I was.

I don't remember the tipping point, but somewhere that first term I "got it."

Hazel helped me banish the fear and I never looked back - except like today - in thanks.

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