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July 2nd, 2007

Our Fathers

Kim and I had a thoughtful chat tonight that I thoroughly savored. The word “thoughtful” doesn’t capture how satisfying it felt to casually talk with her about our jobs, school, friends, and our fathers. Our conversations in the past have sometimes ended in (un)debatable disagreement; but this was much more calm ... and friendly. :) There’s another word that societal arrogance has stigmatized. I mean, who is “friendly” these days? Certainly not a friend. :(

Sometime during our chat I made a tangent about teaching. It probably came up via some financial topic because I hope to be paid in August for coaching Math Camp. (The University is always tardy when it comes down to paying people.) The camp ended this past week and I was telling Kim about Matt’s warning that I not choose a teaching career to get attention. He has a point; one that I only understood a few years into my studies. A teacher in the (American) classroom traditionally holds the attention of her students. And she is powerful -- even if superficially, or if only in the way a manager is empowered by her employees. So Matt asked me in an email the reasons why I wanted to teach, and back then I gave him the cliche anecdote about “playing teacher” when I was young and wanting to teach ever since then. I didn’t realize then that my response validated Matt’s concerns. Now I was retelling his concerns to Kim and realizing that I wanted to teach for more altruistic reasons. The reasons are similar to why I like cooking for friends. I invite friends over for dinner because I want them to appreciate something that they need anyways. I mean, you have to eat with or without me around but I would like see you satisfied and full tummied. Is that so horrible? It’s not benign or unselfish -- I can burn Sarah’s tongue off with spices while I’m filling up her glass up with milk and enjoying the hottness for myself nonetheless -- but in my case I think it’s a good reason. So during Math Camp, or this third summer coaching middle and high schoolers in algebra and geometry, I realized that Matt need not worry. Fellow coaches and I would take stabs at each other’s teams in friendly competition, but one coach made a comment about how “authoritarian” the other guy coaches seemed ... and I infer that he was saying this to me because he and I weren’t standing up in front of our teams and dictating exponent rules.

I dislike standing up in front of the class; I form a circle of students and sit alongside them ... at most, the 1st chair but by no means omnipotent. I dislike saying, “That’s wrong. Try again”; I say, “I don’t get that answer. Explain how you got it and let’s see if it’s right” -- sentient but by no means omniscient.