Wednesday, November 23, 2016

How do you life?

I gave a test to my geometry students last week. The first test since election day. And much like all test days, I asked the kiddos if they had any last minute questions, reminding them, a) Yes, they have to take it, and b) No, I won't give them the answers.

I do this before every test, because I know there is that one kid who will finally ask the question that he's been meaning to ask for days, but just hasn't done it. I always answer the question even if it means that some kids won't finish the test during the class period.. more time can be found. I want the student to know that it was ok to ask the question, and that I was there to answer it. It's an opportunity to build trust with that student, so maybe next time he won't wait to the last minute.

Anxiety was high for this test, so I fielded several questions in each of my classes. Business as normal really. But then in my 6th period class (last of the day) after answering a question on incenter, and another on constructing altitude, one of my students raises his hand with one of those smiles on his face that is telling me
that he thinks he's about to be funny. I call on him, and he throws out, "Mr. Mach, how do you life?"

The class reacted with a mix of laughter, annoyance (several students just wanted to take the test), and paused reflection. It would have been easy for me to write it off, and tell the kid to cut it out, but under the circumstances of the last 2 weeks, I decided to answer the question as seriously as possible. What came out was similar to this:
How do I life? Well, I make sure that I wake up every morning with the best attitude that I can. I wake up focused on being the best version of myself that I can be each day, because in being the best version of myself I might inspire others to do the same. I life by treating people the way that I would want my kids to be treated or my grandma to be treated. I wake up knowing that if I'm honest, kind, and hard working that good things can happen around me. Because I don't know what type of day or back story those around me are having. I can only control what I bring to each day, and I life by bringing the best day that I can for me, my family, and all of you. So, that's how life. I own it. I don't blame others, and I accept people for who they are by celebrating the wonderful differences between us. Now, remove everything from your desks except a pencil, compass, and straightedge. And let's make this happen! 
My message to the class had impact that day. The student that asked the question has a tough time with school. Life isn't the easiest for this kiddo, and in that moment I said something that connected. For the first time all year, he asked questions during the test to better understand what needed to be done. He showed resolve that I'd not seen in him before. He was serious about his work, and for the first time in a long time, he cared about doing well.

I take my job seriously. Not because I LOVE math, but because I get to work with kids all day. I get to know that for a few of these kids each year, I get to be what Mr. Wyman, Coach P, Mrs. Kolder, Mrs. Nyquist, Ms. Belzer, Ms. Anderson, and plenty of others were for me.. role models. Because in my life, school is a place to grow as a person. School is a place to learn about how to be a member of society from those adults around you. I look at school as a place where compromise, listening, compassion, and
understanding are the root of success, because these things foster the trust and comfort allowed for free thought and creative thinking. School is NOT for rigid rules that create people fearful of thinking out of the box, or in thinking only what they are told to think.

There are too many schools that rule through authority, and create a level of fear that stymy the free thought needed to move our country forward. It is the responsibility of our public education system to change from our old traditions by learning to foster an environment that allows comfort for students to take chances, to learn trust and respect others out of appreciation for our individual thought and creativity.

This is an important time for teachers to work beyond the stress of regulation, standards, and evaluations. We need to see through the burden of what legislators have put on us, and in many cases, what administrators allow to fall on our shoulders. This is a time that requires us to create the safe space students deserve to be in while at school. We are the drivers of change, and the models of character that some students need.

This is a time for us to answer each question the students throw at us, and more than anything, a time to show them how to life.