Breaking Free of Silence

Silence can be an enjoyable thing or it can be a marinade of lonely mixed with apathy.  The first kind is found with old friends, a good book, or a hot bath.  The second kind was where I lived.

This Silence wasn’t characterized just by a lack of words.  It was a tangible entity enveloping all those that lived inside the house.  It settled first into the rooms, making them seem hollow,  then settled into the bones of the people that called that place home. Once it was there, even as an uninvited guest, it simply wasn’t willing to vacate, and Silence has a way of taking over.

Since the Silence isn’t just heard, it’s felt, those that dwell there try to fill it with other hollow things.  The one that created it will try the hardest to fill it up with electronic noise, which only serves to exacerbate it instead of filling it. The others try to fill it with comforting things like playing music, baking, talking to friends on the phone, or making plans with family.  All of those create temporary respite for those enveloped in the Silence.

Breaking free of the growing Silence, and it does grow, is complicated.  To get out you have to find the opposite of the Silence and try to replace it with those things.  Since the opposite of this kind of Silence is communication and relationship, this is a daunting task.  After all, Silence gave them a beating for months, possibly years, before they left for good.  Luring them back takes time and a lot of effort, and you have to pass the gatekeeper before they can get in.  The gatekeeper is the one that made Communication and Relationship leave in the first place.  If they can’t get past the gatekeeper, then there is only one other thing you can do.

Leaving Silence isn’t like leaving a person.  If you lived with it for years, then it has a habit of hanging around until you’ve made it clear it isn’t welcome anymore.  Silence is an optimist.  It will think that shadows of what you were in your former life will slowly become who are you in your new life, but this does not have to be true.  Now you are the gatekeeper, and you have the power to fill your new home with communication and relationship and finally be happy.  And when you are alone, and you have silence, it feels just like being with old friends, reading a good book, or taking a hot bath.

Not Quite Found, But Safe and Sound

When I was about 13 years old my friend Kelli and I decided to walk to another friend’s house.  It didn’t seem like that far of a walk, there was safety in numbers, and we thought we were adults. (We were really really wrong.) Really long story short, we got lost.  We thought we knew where we were. We had our landmarks, were in the woods, and after walking for at least 2 hours we never made it to our friend’s house.  The woods simply got the best of us that day.  To make matters worse just as I stated that things could not get worse the heavens opened and poured rain and we heard a sound of thunder.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this the last few months.  You think because you know your way around somewhere and you have landmarks,  you are safe from getting lost.  This is just not true.  I got lost on my way home this year, metaphorically speaking, and I felt like I knew exactly where I was going.  I felt like I had a plan on how to get there, and just when I thought I had it all figured out, the metaphorical rain started pouring from the sky.

Every little piece of us makes up the whole.  When we feel broken, we forget that even while we are broken, our parts are still there.  You can be broken and still be a whole person.  Sometimes we find the pieces of ourselves in the places we wouldn’t think to look, and for me the place I wouldn’t have thought to look is in the rear view mirror.  While I’ve been feeling lost I’ve come into contact with a few folks that I felt like had already come into my life and had gone out of it forever.  I think sometimes people are in our path to remind us of who we were before we got lost.  We all can use a reminder sometimes.

When my oldest child started middle school she joined  a club sponsored by my former 8th grade middle school teacher. She came home and said she wanted to join a club, and she told me the teacher’s name.  A few weeks prior to that the same teacher and I had a conversation at the front of the school on registration day.  This teacher played a huge part in why I wanted to be a teacher in the first place.  I was a teacher’s aide for him in 9th and 10th grade during my study hall because the schools were right next door to each other.  I was allowed to grade papers, decorate the bulletin board with wild abandon, and help students if they needed extra help sometimes.  So, here I was, fresh out of a teaching job because my contract wasn’t renewed, and here he was reminding me of the things that caused me to want to teach in the first place.  I needed that reminder, and I’m glad to have crossed paths again. I’m blessed that now his legacy will extend to my child.  I picked up a piece of myself that day that I had neglected to think about in many years.

This week I was substituting my final few days  in Algebra 1 and my 7th grade homeroom and math teacher walked in the door.  She smiled a big smile.  She came straight over and hugged me, and said my name.  She said my name, and I hadn’t seen this lady in 22 years.  She was one of my favorites, but more importantly she was the first person that showed me what it meant to be in a middle school.  That was a scary time, but she helped me grow my confidence, and her sense of humor always made math fun.  I knew she was important to me, and she held relevance to my life.  But it was her that said my name first.  That meant somehow my life in her class hadn’t been forgotten.  After she left I found myself smiling the biggest smile and tearing up at the same time.  A teacher makes a huge impact, and to be remembered brightened my day.  It made me hope that one day, I will remember a student’s name I run across, even 22 years after they sit in a classroom with me.  It was just a moment to her, running across a long lost student, but I picked up another piece of me.

Some pieces of ourselves aren’t pretty.  Some pieces have doubts, confusions, hurts, anger, and failures.  It’s the rare person that can tackle those parts of us and not grow weary, but another person I knew from long ago came back into my life last year and did just that.  This friend is the reason I told my students in Algebra on the first day to be very nice to people this year because you never know if your friend that can help fight your worst battles in a few decades will be sitting near you in Algebra class.  Some people don’t just give you one piece of yourself back.  Some people hold up a mirror and make you see the whole person again.  You just can’t put a price on that.

Some words aren’t big enough.  Some words attempt to convey meanings, but never can cover exactly what you are trying to say.  Sometimes your heart is so full you can’t fully impart upon others the exactness of the spirit of your words. I have had moments in the past year that have helped me pick up pieces and decrease the amount of lost I feel.  I am surrounded by fantastic people.  Grateful doesn’t quite cover it, and even when you are still kind of lost, grateful feels pretty good.

Adventures In Algebra: Existentially Solving For Why

Math Atheist

I’ve always been what Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes calls a math atheist.  I understand why numbers exist, and I comprehend the importance of basic math.  What does not seem to compute with me is when we start having to deal with fractions of numbers, decimals, and the rest of the concepts that start the downward spiral toward adding in the letters of the alphabet. That’s right; I’m talking about algebra.

As a math atheist, I believe the science involved in math is somehow made up in order to confuse those that have an undying affection for all things word related and none of the things number related. But it would stand to reason if I love words, then I would find comfort in the kind of math where they start adding in letters.   I not only do not find comfort in it, I honestly think that there is not a time I have ever used it after the year I graduated high school and passed the math in college.

So, why talk about math if I hate it so immensely? It’s one of those things in life that makes you realize God has a sense of humor. If someone had asked me this time last year what I would be teaching this fall, I probably wouldn’t have said math.  I probably wouldn’t have said high school.  I know I definitely would not have said high school math, but I love teaching, so when an opportunity opened to teach Algebra I to 9th graders for a maternity leave I decided to give it my best shot.  Going straight to high school from 2nd grade was a lot like being dumped at a dance contest with two left feet and chronic knee pain, but I was determined to make this work.

Things have been going well, and I’ve been reflecting on the first three weeks of teaching. I’ve learned a lot by teaching algebra, and I have a much different take away on the things I have taught in the first few weeks of school.  I already told you I wasn’t endowed with a math brain, so you probably won’t be shocked that while the things I’ve learned had to do with math, they weren’t all that mathematical.

Most people know that all numbers fall into specific categories.  Two of these categories you can place numbers into are rational and irrational.  People can also fit nicely into those two categories.  This is applicable no matter who you are or what you do.  The biggest thing to remember is that with people and numbers the rational and irrational both fit into a larger category: real.  It’s okay to be irrational, as long as you remember to stay real. And who among us hasn’t parked themselves for a few days on the side of  irrational?

In order to solve any problem in algebra, you have to remember how to combine like terms.  You can’t add things up that aren’t supposed to be together.  How can you tell if numbers should be together?  You have to examine them closely.  Variables can be a pain. Adding 4r to 2b is still 4r + 2b.  It’s never going to add to up 6.  And, just like in algebra when you have people in your life, sometimes it is best to keep the ones that are alike together.  They will always add up correctly that way.  I’ll be the first to say I’ve tried to combine myself with people that were unlike me and tried to make us add up.  In order to have a successful relationship with those people I have to remember to see individual parts, and not all jumbled up together.  This helps me when solving problems in both math and with people.

The equation is another concept we address immediately in algebra.  What a great concept! When we think of an equation we can think of a scale.  The things on one side have to equal what is on the other side of the equal sign.  Sure, there are different ways of writing them on each side, but they will add up.  That variable is just an unknown on one side.  We all have unknowns when trying to make things add up in our life.  We are sometimes given puzzles with missing pieces. We can think of the task of working equations as practice for the real world.  There’s always going to be a y (or a why???) on one side of the problem.  There is always a solution.  All you have to do is remember to keep a balance when you are adding and removing things in your life to make sure the scale doesn’t tip to one side.

Inequalities have also gotten me thinking.  You solve an inequality like equations for the most part. Sometimes things aren’t equal on both sides in math or in real world relationships.  Sometimes one side is greater than the other side. The hard part for so many students is figuring out after you solve the problem whether you have to flip the sign the opposite way.  The rules say if you divide or multiply by a negative you need to flip the sign.  So, that’s also a great life lesson, right?  If you are multiplying by a negative, you are going to have to change something.  Rarely do negatives do anything good in our lives if nothing changes.

So I am not teaching what I thought I would this fall.  The students are doing a fabulous job putting up with an algebra teacher that is doing her best to teach the rules while questioning them herself.  For now you can find me  reminding students to show their work while I  glance at a clock every day with a sign on it placed by the classroom teacher that says,“Time will pass, will you?”  What a great question! I hope I pass.