We recently celebrated Teacher Appreciation Week so I’ve been thinking about the teachers in my life who have influenced me. Since this is a blog about math, I decided to mention two of my math teachers who have made a lasting impression on me.
(Unfortunately that impression didn’t extend to their names, since I’m terrible with names and it was about forty years ago. However, they know who they are.)
Middle School Algebra – My teacher was a tall, lean, severe-looking man whose horn-rim glasses and dark suits gave him the air of a church deacon. He had a deep, mildly monotonic voice, with an odd rhythm that forced you to pay closer attention. He addressed all of us as “Mr. X” or “Miss Y” and had a way of looking at you that felt like he could see inside of your skull. He gave off an air of mild disdain that for some reason pushed us to work harder to prove ourselves.
High School Geometry – My geometry teacher was a former Marine D.I., with a gymnast’s build and a wicked Van Dyke. He seemed to radiate energy and his eyes took in everything and missed nothing. His enthusiasm for his subject was contagious and he spent the majority of the class going through proofs. This might sound dull, but he presented them as if he was letting us in on this Great Secret and before long we were excited to get to the proofs and solving the puzzle. The most important thing I took away from this class was that I could assert that something was true but that was no better than simple faith. If the only evidence of a truth is belief, what happens when the believer goes away?
But if I can assert a truth through a rigorously logical proof, then this is not just true because I say so. The Universe says so. Not only that, but my proven truth will always be true and will have always been true. It doesn’t matter what happens to me.
Despite their different styles, both teachers had something in common. They treated their students as individuals and were able to express their passion for the subject matter in a way that energized us to learn.
With each new class I teach, I try to live up to the standards set for me by these two men.