A tribute to Maurice

Some folks may have noticed that I’ve been down over the last month, and that I may be a little more misanthropic about the holidays than usual.    There is a reason for that, and that is because I have lost one of my touchstones in my life:   my grandfather, Maurice.    He passed away a few weeks back.

Words have power, and there are a few that I do not use lightly:  my grandfather was my hero.   His was not the heroism of big deeds, or dramatic actions… his was the quiet sort of heroism of selfless actions, of living every day by his principles, and of offering his help and love to those in need.  Personally, he taught me how to use tools, how to negotiate with people.   He helped me get my degree.   He helped me when I lost my job and was about to lose my home.   He taught me the value of respect.   I don’t know a single member of my family who hasn’t relied on him at one point or another.

He wouldn’t just see that you survived, he would help you to live.

In all of my time with him, I never once saw him lose his temper, I never heard him curse, or saw him lift his hand in anger.   There are stories from before I was born about the one time someone heard him curse, and my family was *still* talking about it 50 years later.    (The story goes something like this:   my grandfather was out for a Sunday drive with the family.   They were out about 20 miles from town, when they felt a flat tire.   They pulled over and it turned out that they had two flat tires, and only one spare.  “Oh damn.”   50 years later, my family still remembers.)

He was a quiet man with a somewhat impish sense of humor.   Words can never fully describe his personality, or his influence in our lives.

I miss him more than I can possibly say.


Teaching Zeal

One of the most common comments I get about my teaching style is “I love that you enjoy math.”    While that is true, the real truth is this:   I love teaching.

I love showing the underlying reasons for a method.

I love finding entertaining and engaging ways to change people’s minds.

I love watching people grow, however reluctantly or enthusiastically.

The thing that I see people crave the most is enthusiasm.  A great deal of teaching in my opinion is entertainment.   People can’t learn if they are feeling completely bored out of their skull… so keeping them engaged makes it fun.   And in order to entertain, I think you need to enjoy the subject matter, and you need to enjoy talking about it.

Ultimately, I love math, but people are a bigger puzzle.   Sometimes the secrets to unlocking their understanding are straightforward, and sometimes not.   Every single person I teach has their own story, methods that work better or worse for them, and something that drives them to learn.   For some the study is it’s own reward and others have something else that drives them.  Hopefully,  we can get them to the (agreed upon) points of understanding in the short time I have with each of them.

I love watching them struggle and strive.  This is why I teach.   Watching each person triumph and overcome in their own minor or major ways… of working on that fantastic puzzle of humanity.   And hopefully both of us become a better person myself along the way.

For someone as generally misanthropic, pessimistic, and sarcastic as I am, I *love* getting through a term with my students.   It is bright, and painful, and beautiful to see.   Whether it is someone who gets fractions for the first time, or someone who passes a test they never thought they could.

Now get off your asses and tackle your dreams already.