Small things

I conferenced with all my precalc kids yesterday about which calc class I would recommend for them next year. We consider not only their performance in precalc but also what other classes they plan to take, what they potentially want to major in, and what other commitments they have. And then I try my best to take myself out of the equation and remember I cannot recommend AB for each kid simply because I want them back.

For the most part, what the students had decided for themselves was what I planned to recommend. So that was good.

There was one young lady who was uncertain but had clearly put a lot of thought into her decision. She’s sharp as a whip yet also very meticulous and methodical. “I think it makes sense to take BC,” she told me.

Something didn’t sit quite right but I assumed it was just my selfishness in wanting her to loop with me. I could give no good intellectual comebacks to each of her points.

But I couldn’t shake the thought that I had misguided her. Last night it hit me how similar she is to a student I had last year and how AB was such a good fit for that student. I decided I needed to have one more conversation and then I would drop it.

But before class even started, my student found me.

“I wanted to talk to you about calc. I think I want to change my choice. I’ve thought about it a lot.”

“I was thinking about it last night too, and it hit me how much you’re like M–so smart and also incredibly thorough and meticulous. I think the pace of AB just suits you better. And I really think we’re supposed to be together another year.”

“I was actually talking to M last night!”

“Wait…what?” (They’re two years apart. And it’s a big school.) “About what?”

“About calculus! How crazy that when you were thinking about the two of us, we were actually together! Talking about what you were thinking about!”

“Yeah, that is definitely serendipitous…”

No, now that I think about it, that seems more like the work of the Divine.

I often wonder why I’m doing what I’m doing. There are kids dying all over the world due to lack of access to clean water, safe housing, and basic healthcare. And here I am in the buckle of the Bible Belt teaching calculus, for the love. Am I just blessing the blessed, as they say? How did I end up here? I was supposed to be a world-traveler. I was supposed to start an orphanage. I was supposed to bring relief to the dying.

And here I am–in my comfortable, American life.

My life that I love.

With the people I love.

But is there more? Was I supposed to do more? Be more?

God, did I miss it?

What is it I don’t even know.

“If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities.”
‭‭Luke‬ ‭16:10‬ ‭NLT‬‬

And

“The master was full of praise. ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together! ’”
‭‭Matthew‬ ‭25:21‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Be faithful where I’ve put you, I heard Him say. Be faithful in the small first, Rebecka.

And then He showed me. There’s important work in Tulsa, Oklahoma, too. And maybe–just maybe–it’s work only I can do.

Maybe there’s someone who really needs to be in my class next year (or maybe I need her or both) and He paved that way.

I know. It’s so small. It’s one, maybe two, classes of their high school career.

But teenagers need Love and Life and Salt and Light just as much as the rest of us. We all need Emmanuel.

And so here I am. Thankful that God is with us whether we’re in Central Asia or the Midwest. And that God uses us whether we chose a degree in advanced calculus or theology. Because He is here…and He’s also ahead of us. He’s moving towards us as we inch closer to His Kingdom, infinitesimal part by infinitesimal part…the tiny, shattered pieces make up the whole.

And so we’re here representing that one small sliver, yes, but we get to be part of the whole redemptive story…

As always, my steady rock, my husband, reminds me that I’m doing the best I can for our current season of life.

Faithful where we’re at. For the season we’re in.

Teacher friends, if you find yourself doubting that you’re doing important work, know that (1) you’re not alone but more importantly (2) that’s a lie from the pit of hell. And if that language makes you squirm, I’m sorry. I’m a recovering charismatic.

Do your work. Be proud of your work. Do small things with great love, as Saint Mother Teresa taught us.

Math is so cool

It was average value day today in calculus! I love digging into the applications of integral calc. All the warm fuzzies.

I introduce the idea by asking two questions:

  • How do you find an average? “Add and divide”
  • What’s meant by today’s average temperature?
  • We quickly decide that while we could take a temperature reading every hour and then divide by twenty four, that would be inaccurate as temperature is continuous and has the ability to vary at any given moment in time (especially in Oklahoma). In fact, no matter how short our interval (every hour, every minute, every second), it would never be short enough–we need to sum up an infinite number of temperatures at infinitesimally small time intervals.
  • So algebra fails us.
  • Calculus to the rescue!
  • The idea is to create a rectangle with the same base and area of the weird shape. The height of the rectangle will be our average temperature! We’re still adding (integral) and dividing, just like in elementary school:
  • So this idea works for any integrable function on a closed interval. Excess area needs to fit inside the empty space:
  • To which a student said, “Math is so cool!”
  • I KNOW, RIGHT?
  • Then I had the kids try some examples on their own, with split peas as a guide. The iPad came to the rescue here when one group caught on to the idea quickly. Instead of having the class gather round, I just opened my camera app while I was still mirroring to my board and said, “Look! This is what you’re supposed to do!” And then I took pictures so the other hours had a guide as well.
  • In these examples, kids found the average cost of gasoline, average number of Instagram accounts, average value of a Bitcoin, average number of violent crimes reported, average number of box office tickets sold, and more.
  • Chaotic? Of course.
  • Worth it? 100%.
  • ♥️
  • Beauty for ashes

    I have a student who suffers from debilitating pain in her wrists, to the point where most days it’s impossible for her even to take notes. She compensates by being one of the most attentive and responsive students I’ve had the honor of teaching.

    I’ve offered to allow her to take quizzes and tests verbally instead of written. She’s pushed through the pain each time.

    In the middle of the test today she came up to me and simply shook her head and said, “I can’t.”

  • I grabbed a pencil, took her test away from her, and she whispered every last step of that test to me in the back of the room. As I wrote what she dictated, I noticed that the problems she had attempted with her own hand were done with great struggle. The writing was nowhere close to her usual precise font.
  • When we were done, I gave her a hug and thanked her standing up for herself.
  • Later in the day, I had a couple other visitors who needed to talk. Their stories aren’t mine to share. But I kept thinking about those words: “I can’t.”
  • “I’m not ok.”
  • What a sacred space we enter when that phrase makes its way out to the open.
  • What a responsibility we have to hold what comes next.
  • What an honor it is to be the one they trust their vulnerabilities with.
  • What a sorrow it is to see them walk through tragedy upon tragedy at such a young age.
  • What a duty we have to lean in–to be the ones that start to give them hope in human beings again.
  • “I can’t.”

    May we recognize when our kids are at their breaking point. May we come beside them, listen, and lean in. May we hold their stories. May we enter that sacred space with both trepidation and honor. May we be filled with courage and grace. May the words come to us when we, too, feel we can’t. And may we always work towards restoration, redeeming what’s been lost.

    Beauty for ashes, I’ve been taught my whole life.

    Maybe the real beauty is that we learn one another’s stories and carry them to the point that they become woven into our story. Maybe the real beauty isn’t only in the final outcome but in this process where you and I admit “I can’t.” And in so doing we carry one another’s burdens. We say, “Yes, you can. Because I’m right here with you. And I’m not going anywhere.”

    “But there is a difference between curing and healing, and I believe the church is called to the slow and difficult work of healing. We are called to enter into one another’s pain, anoint it as holy, and stick around no matter the outcome.”

    Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday

    Diff Eq

    I switched rooms briefly today with the other calculus teacher so he could talk to my precalc kids about Calc BC and I could sweet talk his Diff Eq kids into presenting their calc projects from last year at the STEM Expo this year.

    I walked through the door, which is at the back of the classroom. “Oh heyyyy!” I called to those familiar loves.

    “MRS. PETERSON!”

  • Oh what I would have given to loop with this group. My juniors last year were a special breed (like this year’s juniors…I have a special place in my heart for junior year). I had seen all these faces since last year, of course, but not altogether. Not like this. And it made me so happy and so sad all at once. Like I wanted them back. And couldn’t have them. It’s the same reason graduation and the last day of school are so hard. Beautiful but so hard. Because you know they’re moving on and going to do amazing things…but all without you.
  • And that’s good–that’s how it should be. We don’t want a dependent generation; we want an interdependent one. But it’s still so very difficult; the void is palpable.
  • Yet my past students spared no encouragement. “We miss you. We miss your scratch and sniff stickers. [Seriously, that was at the top of their list.] We miss your hugs. We miss the way you talk. We miss it all.”
  • So my hour ended with hugs in a room that wasn’t mine, from students who were no longer mine.
  • But who will always belong to me.
  • What a funny little world this education thing is.
  • To think I came into it thinking I could make a difference in some lives.
  • Little did I know how much of a difference they would make in mine…
  • Redskins for life.
  • Rain quotes

    For Christmas, one of my students got me this darling flip calendar that has a quote for each day of the year. I’ve faithfully flipped its pages each day these first two weeks but no one has mentioned anything about it. Today, a cold and rainy day, a couple students in different hours mentioned how appropriate today’s quote was:

    They really do pay attention to it all.

    *****

    I had my precalc kids do a few SAT problems on their own the first ten minutes of class. Then I allowed them to collaborate with others before giving the answers. In both classes, they jumped right up, formed groups with their friends, and immediately started justifying their answers.

    Love.

    *****

    I had a couple warm up problems on the board for my calc kids to start at the bell. I could tell the questions were harder for them than I had hoped. In one class I asked what they got as an answer. “D,” most of them said gingerly.

    “It’s not D, but I know how you got there and you’re close.”

    “Is it B?” a sweet voice asked timidly.

    “It is! Would you like to show us on the iPad?” I was certain she would decline.

    “Yes.” She beamed.

    And then I beamed.

    There’s a real gift–an empowerment–when you start to grasp the overarching themes of calculus. This is the point in the year where that starts to happen in big, beautiful waves; and I love watching my kids ride those waves with confidence.

    Zero

    My classroom phone rang in first hour this morning. It’s rare that I get calls so I suspiciously looked at the Caller ID. (I legitimately don’t even know if that’s still what it’s called?) It was one of the fourth grade teachers from our pen pal program so I answered immediately.

    “Do you have a sec?”

    “Sure!” (For fourth graders, I have lots of seconds.)

    “You’re on speaker phone. We’re studying prime and composite numbers and we have a question. What do you think: is zero prime or composite?”

    “I think zero is neither prime nor composite.”

    “That’s what we have on the board!”

    “Yay!”

    “So Mrs. Peterson teaches calculus and trig and she agrees! See! Now tell her thank you and goodbye.”

    I don’t know if you’ve ever been told thank you by a choir of fourth graders through speaker phone, but it’s pretty life changing.

    I love everything about this collaboration.

    I love that after a decade into this career, I still run into new opportunities that make me a better teacher and enrich the lives of my students.

    I love that I have a job that will always push me to do better and be better next year than I was this year…

    Each year I do the best I can. Then I learn. And I try to be better the following year.

    The really good stuff from this job takes a long time. It takes a long time to know yourself as a teacher, to build professional relationships, to learn the curriculum, to decide what non-curriculum objectives you want your kids to get from your class…

    But that’s what makes it so satisfying. That you can look at this moment and say, “I’m not where I want to be. But I have come so far.” There’s a deep appreciation for the past and all it’s taught you; and still a longing for the future and all it holds.

    Pen pals

    My two precalc classes have been corresponding with two fourth grade classes in our district. It has been a true highlight of the course for many of my kids. Today, I got to talk to two other precalc classes (next door to me) to come on board so that every fourth grader in that building has a high schooler with whom to correspond. They seemed to take it well, and I could feel genuine excitement from lots of them.

    Then tonight I was texting one of the fourth grade teachers about doing some kind of field trip so that everyone could actually meet. Having taught in this district for several years now, the fourth grade teachers know many of our high school students. I think it would be such a great reunion as well as first time meeting. As my friend suggested, the fourth graders could tour our (amazing) campus, eat from our (amazing) lunch menu, and…do some other activities which my brain has yet to come up with because it’s currently later than 6 PM.

    I love math. Everyone who knows me knows this about me. I love seeing my kids grow as mathematicians. But there are things I love teaching even more than math. I love seeing my kids grow as citizens of their community. To watch that and be a small part of their evolution towards becoming kinder, more patient, and more connected adults is one of my greatest joys.