Yes, it’s been a while.  No good excuses; I’ll spare you the explanations.

More math-specific items coming soon, but for now, I’m pondering this letter and the article by Ta-Nehisi Coates that inspired it.  Coates writes of his own school experience:  “I can tell you what happens when education is decoupled from curiosity, and becomes little more than an insurance policy.”  I frequently bemoan what I see as a lack of curiosity in some of my own students, who, by traditional measures, have been much more successful at school than Coates was.   It’s easy to blame their high schools or their parents or their careerism or society’s attitude toward mathematics, but what’s much more important is how I respond.   Coates reminds me that I am responsible for cultivating curiosity.

Christopher Fasano’s letter, in turn, reminds me that I don’t always appreciate the power I have as a teacher, for better or worse.  More than once I’ve had a former student quote me to myself with words that I do not remember saying.  Of course when I think back to my own education, I remember the day my fourth-grade teacher uncharacteristically lost his temper in class (it didn’t occur to me then that he might have been upset about something else), the clear unspoken message that my calculus teacher didn’t like girls, and the joy with which my professors at Smith talked about mathematics.

As of July 1 I’m on sabbatical.  There are several projects in the works; as a colleague once said, “I can’t be a good teacher without also being a learner.” Still, previous experience suggests that simply having a break from teaching ends up improving my teaching.


About Priscilla Bremser

Professor of Mathematics Middlebury College
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