I have binged on sweet sweet ego-cake and now I have that sickly feeling of over-indulgence and sugar-crash.
Some background: Today I went to work although I was sick. I know. I know, I know what I wrote yesterday – and I stand by it, but it’s also a bit of an exercise in perceptions. The students believe that these last crammed in classes before the pre-exams are all important. In actuality, 90% of the work is already done by now (or not).
Anyway, it was the worst working day I’ve had since the day I started having a miscarriage in front of a group of 2nd year science students and bled through all my clothing. Yeah, that was definitely worse. No one noticed though. Thank goodness for black clothing.
But I felt close to collapse on several occasions throughout the day with completely depleted energy levels and was definitely questioning the whys and wherefores of the whole thing. I staggered in the door and found an email from The Irish Mathematical Trust because a student had nominated me for the Irish Mathematics Teachers Award. Aw. Really aw when I read the excerpt from her nomination letter which said all sorts of nice things about me. It was pretty goddamn uplifting after a day that felt like trudging through honey.
So, of course, I did what any red-blooded male American would do and posted a screen-shot of it to my Facebook so that I could get more ego-stroking in the form of likes. Ack, I suppose that’s the whole point of social media, isn’t it? That’s why it’s so goddamned addictive and all, but I minor-league judge myself for it all the same.
I got way more response to it than I was expecting, some of it from other teachers in my school and I hope (though there’s little enough I can do about it now) that it didn’t come across as too much bragging.
Was it bragging? A smidge. But it felt more like OMG this is so awesome! This feels so good! This this is the why – to find that you’ve actually turned a switch for someone and started them loving a subject.
And yeah, y’know I kind of think everyone should love maths. No wait, that’s wrong. I think there’s something for everyone to love in maths. But it’s often not possible to give it enough time and attention in our packed school system for that to come true. I mean who doesn’t love the thrill of figuring out a puzzle by themselves and feeling all the pieces click; of having something you have thought resonate with the frequency of the universe; of having the surety of something just feeling right and beautiful.
It’s a gift that we’ve been given as humans, this ability to know part of the music of the cosmos, and to potentially sing along.
I guess that most mathematicians believe that Maths is the fundamental language of the universe. It’s probably akin to religious faith. I don’t think I ever believed in any religious notions with the same fervour as I’ve believed in maths. I don’t think any philosophical quest has ever filled me with as much excitement as the first theorem I proved for myself, unaided.
That felt like a type of growing up in itself.
And so now I guess I parent in another way – a type of academic parenting – hoping to pass on the ability to delve deep into intellectual mysteries for themselves. To dress themselves in knowledge and research, and form their own adult opinions.
There, now doesn’t that sound different from yesterday’s strict admonishments that “It’s just a job” and how my “life” is elsewhere.
I question myself as to whether I truly have a vocation for teaching or not – and it is supposed to be a vocation – or if I’ve just chosen it as a career that is convenient to the many things I want to do and ways I want to live my life. On days like this I feel like I can glimpse that platonic ideal of what vocation might feel like, but truthfully? I’m mostly just shadows dancing on a cave wall.
Anyway, living in the space of the ideal is exhausting, and I think I spoke at least one truth yesterday when I wrote of the sacrifices it necessitates, of putting so much other important stuff second.
I might not be the best possible teacher I could be, but I think I’m the best possible teacher I can be whilst still being the best possible me I can be.