Thanks for All the Residue!

At this year’s CMC-South conference, Dan Teague gave a thought-provoking presentation about “The Residue of Mathematics,” which he defines as “what students take with them from class into their futures.”

Watching Dan’s presentation prompted a few thoughts:

1) Wow, I really wish I could take a math course from Dan Teague!
2) What is the residue from the classes I taught?
3) What is the residue from my own education?

In this post, I’ll focus on the third question.

I attended public schools in California from kindergarten through 12th grade. I was fortunate to attend excellent schools, but some of my teachers and classes stand out for the lasting impression and impact they had on my life—the “residue.” In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’d like to honor some of these teachers.

(My apologies that the space is too short to thank many other excellent teachers I’ve had.)

To Mrs. Bakke, my teacher for kindergarten and first grade: My memories of those years are pretty fuzzy, but I remember being the narrator of Chicken Little—a scary but ultimately rewarding role for a shy child—and curling up in the corner of your classroom to read. The most telling measure of your impact is that from kindergarten on, my dream was to be a teacher someday.

To Mrs. DeSandies, my third grade teacher: I know we did creative activities in your class, like joining hands to circle a tree and estimating its perimeter. But my overarching memory is that you were kind and respectful to all of your students, a very diverse group of kids. Years later, we were teachers in the same district, and I was impressed by your thoughtfulness, continued willingness to try new things, and caring for your students.

In fourth and fifth grade, we began to “travel” for math and language arts. I had Mr. Tomlin for two years of math and Mrs. Lund for two years of language arts. Lucky me!

To Mr. Tomlin: Thank you for encouraging exploration and play in your math class. I know that we had math textbooks, but I barely remember them. What I do remember is measuring angles out on the blacktop, working on mathematical projects that could take days to complete—one was calculating the center of population of California!—and playing Yahtzee on Fridays. We also did an activity that involved building families of gene monsters. We rolled dice to see whether the offspring inherited a particular characteristic (number of eyes, hair color, etc.) from its mother or father. My friend Carin obsessively created generations upon generations of Gene Monsters. The residue for her? She now has a Ph.D. in genetics, and she brought the Gene Monster activity to her daughter’s school to engage a new group of students—and perhaps encourage another future scientist.

To Mrs. Lund: You made me an editor of the 5th Edition, the school magazine published by your class every year. Who knew that (some large number of) years later, I would become a development editor for a publisher? While I didn’t list the 5th Edition on my resume, I’m sure that the residue from that and other creative activities in your class are still with me.

To Mrs. Drummond-Hay, my 8th-grade algebra teacher: The algebra skills I developed in your class were the underpinnings for my success in math classes through calculus. (And thanks to my mom, too, because she was always willing to help me puzzle out a problem.)

To Coach Yannicks, my freshman P.E. teacher: It’s quite surprising to find a P.E. teacher on this list. After all, I hated P.E. from 4th grade on, and I was happy when California eliminated the requirement for four years of P.E. in high school. But I made a lucky catch of a football one day when you were watching, and every day after that, you’d greet me with “It’s DeCarli, my ‘A’ student.” At some point after college, I got over my aversion to team sports and that opened me up to the joy of playing Ultimate Frisbee. I’m pretty sure you had a hand in that.

To Mrs. Griscom (Bradley), my junior English teacher: We read great literature and you facilitated wonderful class discussions about characters and themes. Beyond tolerating our silliness, you connected with us as individuals, and helped us as we struggled with both trivial and life-affecting teenage concerns.

To Frank Moura, my jazz band director for all of high school: For your retirement, you were honored with a surprise party that included bands comprised of alumni from the 1970’s to the 2000’s. Unlike some of your graduates who have gone on to become professional musicians, I lapsed in playing music after college (although your retirement concert prompted me to picked up the tenor sax again), but I developed a lifelong appreciation for jazz through your program. From that love of the music, I took up swing dancing, and met my husband at a swing dance. That’s quite some residue!

These teachers and others left me with the ability to write a coherent paragraph, an appreciation of math as being more than a set of equations to solve, the ability to always find the “one” in an eight-count phrase (Lindy hoppers know what I mean), a modicum of confidence in my athletic ability, and many models for interacting with and teaching my own students. Thanks to all of them for the residue! And a very happy Thanksgiving to all of you.

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