Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The End Is Nigh

So, I was planning to retire at the end of this academic year but a bit of a serious heart attack got in the way just before the end of last year and I'm forced to take medical leave this semester. I had planned to really enjoy the last semester of my working life but sometimes things just don't work out the way we want them to; just  like some maths problems I have encountered over the years. No matter what you do, they seem to defy resolution. And so it is with my last semester. I was to have eased into retirement tidying up all the loose ends, making  sure my courses were complete and ready for my replacement to take over and make them hers or his.

The remarkable thing about teaching, something maybe only teachers know and understand, is that the courses one develops and teaches become incredibly, unbelievably, and almost inexplicably personal. The three maths education  courses I have taught in the Education Department at St. Mike's for the last several years are each unique and exclusively my own creations. Yes, of course there are curriculum standards and teaching standards that have to be addressed but my courses are my personal interpretations of those standards. I use the philosophical theories that I have experienced and developed over the past forty something years to operationalize those standards for my students. I use the experiences I have had teaching maths to children to illustrate and exemplify those theories and ideas with inspiring stories.

Each course I teach is characterized by an emotional set regarding the content I teach. I choose to focus more on those things that I truly believe work and cause my students to think. I minimize the time I spend discussing and exploring things that I know create negative feelings or are just "tricks of the trade" so to speak. I believe that to teach maths one must intellectualize the process, base ones practices on well reasoned theory or, as John Dewey said, we must use our "executive means" to get as close as we can to our "inspired vision". One must listen to children speaking mathematically and get to know what they think mathematically. One must know, understand, and love the maths intimately. My students were always actively involved in their learning by doing, talking, thinking and reflecting.

I cannot believe how difficult this is;quitting cold turkey, the sense of being shut out, stopping teaching, not meeting my students each week, not reading papers, not standing in front of the class, not telling stories, not conferencing  with students about their dreams and aspirations, not talking with colleagues, not helping students over their maths anxiety, not lighting up students' eyes about the joys and wonders of learning and teaching mathematics.

I hope there's a way I can continue to be a part of the maths education community and make a positive contribution in some way.


  1. Tim
    You are a gem, a treasure to the Education Department and an inspiration to students.I have run into a few students when hearing that you were not coming back remarked how lucky they were to have you (for all the reasons you state above). Your positive contribution will outlive us all.
    cheers Jonathan

  2. We do miss you here Tim!! Please be sure to visit and come by whenever it works for you. I know the new instructors appreciate your support. Best always, Karen