Saturday, August 13, 2016

Teachers Who Helped: A Writer's Perspective

Hi, folks! School is about to start in Texas, and that makes me think of all the wonderful teachers who have transformed my life.  I had several standout college professors. Pat Flynn was one of my favorites. He taught me freshman calculus. I was the clueless one when it came to math, but Pat was a teacher within infinite patience.

I remember my first day in class, and Pat wrote something on the board in a foreign math script. He began throwing out words like integral, derivative, differential, infinitesimals, and convergence. My poor brain.  I dutifully wrote down the words and definitions, but inside I knew I was in real trouble. Pat had listed office hours on his syllabus, and I headed over the very first day.

I sat down in front of him with tears in my eyes and told him I didn't understand anything that he said. Pat slid a box of tissue to me and began to explain the problems he discussed in class.  He asked me to work on a problem.  I tried to do it. When I was totally flustered, he asked me if I even knew how to add and subtract.  I remember blushing and answering honestly, "Not really."

His eyes widened and soon he knew the terrible truth. I did not know arithmetic, algebra, geometry, or trig. When I left my rather stunned teacher, I began practicing adding and multiplying. I was in a jazzed mood. All I had to do was learn a bunch of basic math and I would be on my way to understanding calculus.

I showed up for every class. I went to every office hour. Pat found an algebra, geometry and a trig book for me. I work problems sets in each one everyday. After a while, Pat cleared off a desk in his office so I would have a place to work. After a month of grueling work, I still didn't really understand calculus. My first test had been a fat F and so had been my second one.  I didn't give up though.

I kept working. Toward the end of the semester light began to dawn in my noggin.  I had gained the basic tools of math, and I was finally moving forward with calculus.  Pat worked problem after problem for me, again and again, while I watched.  Week after week.  One day toward the end of the semester, I asked him why did he put up with me because there was no way I was going to pass his class.

His eyebrow quirked up and he told me, "Oh, you are going to pass."

I jerked in surprise.

"You have showed up for every class, every office hour. You have worked every problem set. You've never skipped anything.  I have never seen this kind of worth ethic in a student. I know I didn't have it when I was your age."

"But I failed the tests."

"Some things are more important than tests." Pat said.

To this day I love math. I'm fluent in the language of mathematics.  Imagine if Pat had cared about the tests?  I live in a world that has decided the test is the way to know how the student is doing. To me, this an epic fail. A good teacher's F student is successful.  We want educated people not good statistics. We want students who love subjects and show up every day excited about learning. A good teacher makes that possible.

Hug a teacher today. Thank them for what they do. If you are a teacher, you are one of my heroes.  I wish the Internet were full of stories about teachers instead of celebrities.

Here is a doodle. This is the cover art for the upcoming TEENSPublish anthology!  This is a silhouette of each of the participants. Also note my book PLUMB CRAZY is on sale for my birthday month: 99 cents.  Here is the Kindle link.

Here is a quote for your pocket.
Strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, weak minds discuss people. Socrates


Sumel said...

Love love love Pat Flynn.

"when I was you're age"...he lied. He had a PH.d at 19...worked a bit.

Molly/Cece said...

I'm not sure if Pat bothered going to class much, but he like had math in the soul.

Vijaya said...

I love this story...and this weekend I couldn't stop thinking about fractals. Your tenacity is highly inspiring