Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about numbers. And it’s not because Grandma turned 98 – more that I just attended a workshop by Dr. John Mighton, author of JUMP Math. He encourages teachers to rethink the way they have taught mathematics. Curious? Check out his lecture entitled, The Ubiquitous Bell Curve.
I feel like a kid who just discovered the other half of the number line – negative integers.
When I became a teacher, I thought I made a difference with the big numbers. In my early days, I provided prep coverage to entire schools. This meant that, as a specialist teacher, I would interact with several hundred children a week – and I loved it! Yes, I struggled with all those names, but I felt my role in the world was important because I was making a small but positive difference in many lives.
Then I got my own intermediate class. And I marvelled… 30 children, five days a week, reporting to 60 or so parents. What could be more meaningful than that?
A few year later, and an intercontinental move, I discovered the primary world and, after feeling like I was drowning for 6 months, found my niche. Just think of it: 23 six year-olds learning to read and write. Does it get any more basic and rewarding than this? I discovered the joy of partnering with parents and buzzed with creativity and joy in the classroom.
And then my life changed again. After a seven-year child-loss journey, I was finally investing in 1. Then 2, and, eventually, 3: all day, every day, from diapers, to solid foods, and from first steps to learning to read. Three humans now depend on me to gather their
basic needs, provide a safe home, keep-it-together, and advocate for them. Sometimes it’s exhausting and messy, but then 20 minutes later, some crazy, meaningful, flash-of-absurd-joy happens and I can’t imagine anything better than 1 divided by 3. 0.333 is a pretty insignificant number. Or is it?
Behind each deep investment with 1 child, are numbers I will never see: the lives they will touch, the people they will invest in, their own children and so on, down the generational lines. To me this feels a bit like negative integers and a row of numbers standing behind 1.
Thanks to JUMP Math and Dr. Mighton, in my classroom and our neighbourhood math club, I now teach to the 1, mindful of the hidden numbers each child represents. And I’m becoming convinced that if my students leave my classroom strong in math, then down the
line, they will have the tools to confidently find their place among the numbers, too. I’m affecting the future careers of my students, and by refusing to leave any behind mathematically, influencing how they will support their own families. Suddenly my role with 1 feels immense.