Learning by leaning

I met with a student during my plan today to hear her story. I’m at the tail end of listening to each introduction–I just have the reschedules left. This was one we had rescheduled a few times due to various conflicts.

I have eighty calc students this year. Out of those eighty, about ten did not share any major hardship with me. (In other words, from what I can tell, a maximum of thirteen percent of my calculus students have not undergone some kind of tragedy such death, abuse, or neglect.)

But today’s story…today’s story brought me to my knees.

I sat there and listened to hurt after hurt, tragedy after tragedy that this beautiful soul has endured. And finally I couldn’t take it anymore. I started weeping. Right in front of her. I asked if I could hug her and we just held each other and sobbed. Sobbed for the childhood of which she was robbed.

And then I collected myself and asked what her plans were for the future.

And she lit up.

She has plans. Big plans.

(Side note: some of those plans hinge on being a valedictorian, which is now in her grasp because of a committee I got to be a part of in which we redesigned how that honor was awarded. Yay us!)

These plans include using her education to pull herself out of poverty, to end the cycle of darkness, as far as it depends on her.

My quote of the week this week was, “When we own our story, we can write the ending.” (Brene Brown) I feel this lady has mastered this at such a young age. She owns her pain, owns her story…and that makes her invincible.

She’s decided it doesn’t matter if she has familial support or not. It’s her life. She gets to choose the outcome.

The timing of this lesson for me was uncanny. I was in a slump today, feeling a bit dejected. A bit like “Am I where I’m supposed to be? Am I wanted here?” I’m assuming we all have these days? (Please say yes.)

But I was reminded today: it doesn’t really matter what others think of you. You keep working on you. You keep progressing. You keep reaching. You keep trying. You keep pouring. You keep loving.

You keep showing up.

You keep making a place where kids feel valued, safe, wanted, heard, and known.

And maybe people will notice.

Maybe they won’t.

Maybe you’ll have the biggest cheering section of all.

Or maybe you’ll be alone in your endeavors.

My student reminded me today: it doesn’t matter.

You do you, as the kids would say.

I know I’m the teacher here…but today the roles were reversed.

Today I did most of the learning.

It’s not comfortable, to be clear.

But growth never comes from comfort…

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters,”‭‭Colossians‬ ‭3:23‬ ‭



While grading notebooks today I came across this from when we covered a proof of quotient rule:

The “WOW!!!” made me swoon a bit, not gonna lie…

I love when my kids find calculus as cool and as incredible as I do…


Yesterday a kid asked me about a homework question regarding how to differentiate a function made of a product inside a quotient:

We worked through it but I could tell he didn’t buy my explanation. I said, “Why don’t you think on it tonight and bring it back to me in the morning if you’re still not convinced.”

99.999999% of kids would just leave it. Good enough. Close enough.

Not this one.

Today: “Mrs. Peterson, I tried that problem again and I still don’t get it.”

I must have stopped dead in my tracks. Not because he didn’t get it but because he was bound and determined to get it. No matter how long he had to work on it.

So we proceeded.

And we proceeded again.

And again.

And then I saw the lightbulb and there’s nothing you could do to wipe the ridiculous smiles off either of our faces.

I’m thankful for kids who ask questions. I’m extremely thankful for kids who ask the same question more than once.

Mostly, I’m thankful for a classroom culture that encourages that asking and that perseverance. I’m not there with every kid. Not every kid will work this hard for me yet. But I can get there. Today showed me that.

I love teaching calculus; anyone who knows me knows my insane love for the subject. But even more, I love teaching a love for learning, for accuracy, for full comprehension. The calculus will be more important to some than others…but a love of learning is something that can last their whole lifetime.


An assistant principal came by today with a gift. “I was just thinking about you and wanted to drop this off.”

She proceeded to ask how I was doing, and verbal overflow ensued.

Turns out I really needed someone to talk today.

Then I read the note she wrote. Turns out it was exactly what I needed to hear today.

Then I opened the gift. Red earrings. Exactly what my latest Amazon search was…I kid you not.

When we pay attention to others and when we listen to that still, small voice (even when we don’t necessarily realize she’s speaking to us or that we’re even listening)…small miracles happen.

I’m so, so very grateful for people who listen and support. I’m so grateful for my tribe.

Roller Coaster Projects

Several years ago, a Precalc team member brought in a “Roller Coaster Project” idea from a conference. The idea is for students to design a roller coaster using at least four sinusoidal functions, graph their functions and analyze them…and then build a model.

This year I asked each group to add a theme to their coasters.

They did not disappoint:


Jurassic Park

Duct Tape Fixes Everything

Mario Kart

Santa and His Reindeer

Hot Wheels

A Day at the Beach

Be Happy


I love when my kids get a chance to show their creative side in a new (to me) way. Not a single group said everything went according to plan, so it was really good to hear how they had to work together and revise to come up with these final projects.

The best part was when each group showed the class how their ball bearing did indeed make it all the way through the roller coaster. Without fail, the class would burst into undirected applause.

It makes my heart the happiest when I see them support each other so well…

Number One Thousand

Today is my 1000th One Good Thing!

I’ve been thinking about this since last week when I decided to go see just how many times I’ve hit “Post.” When I saw I was at #995, I wanted to make this one special somehow.

I’ve thought about what I wanted to write for this post.

Only one phrase kept coming to me: thank you.

Thank you to Rachel Kernodle who opened up this space and welcomed everyone to enter, even a struggling first-year high school teacher.

Thank you to Lisa Witcher who told me–and continues to tell me–it is important to continue.

Thank you to Kelly Hicks who cheers me on from states away.

Thank you to my mother-in-law, Sheri, who reads faithfully; a loyal supporter if there ever was one.

Thank you to those who take the time to read and comment.

Mostly, thank you to my students. This practice of writing something good every day was born out of necessity because, quite frankly…y’all were driving me nuts.

Like I-think-I’d-rather-flip-burgers nuts.

Let’s recall: the prefrontal cortex is not fully developed until age 25. Some days the truth of this is abundantly clear.

But once I retrained my brain to look for the good, it turns out: I kind of love your crazy.

Turns out I’m kind of crazy, too, so actually we were pretty much made for each other.

It took me a little while to get there, though. And I still regress. I apologize for that.

Thank you for giving one thousand good moments (and so much more). One thousand declarations of celebration.

Thank you for sharing your highs and lows with me. Thank you for letting me in. Thank you for the big moments and little ones: for when you ask me genuinely “How is your day going, Mrs. P?” And for when you tell me, “You’re the mom I didn’t get to have.”

Thank you for encouraging me on days I came in tired, discouraged, or even defeated.

Thank you for being my kids long before I became a momma. You probably didn’t realize you were doing it, but you eased the pain of infertility just by letting me be a part of your life.

Thank you for rejoicing when I got pregnant; tolerating me when I was pregnant; and opening your arms to my son since the day he was born.

Thank you for standing with me when it was time to walk out. Thank you for getting back to business when it was time to come back.

Thank you for your vulnerability when I’ve asked you to share your stories.

Thank you for reaching out even after you graduate.

I owe this blog everything. Because of it–because of the discipline of searching for the good–I didn’t give up on this career.

I’ve learned that if I pay attention, there is good happening everywhere.

I’ve learned that when I listen, you have a lot to teach me.

I’ve learned that when I look closely, I can start to understand C.S. Lewis’s words:

There are no ordinary people.

You have never talked to a mere mortal.

Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.

But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.

You’re no ordinary people. You’re my kids. You’ve given me a job I love–a job I take seriously for you, but a job that also allows me to play and laugh a lot.

I started writing something good every day because I needed to. Because I was at a breaking point. Because if I couldn’t make this work, I really didn’t know what I would do next.

But I’ve continued writing because it fuels me. Because it’s sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because once I looked for the good, it found me a lot faster.

Tonight I’m grateful.

Every day may not be good, but there’s something good in every day.

And it’s our choice to go find it.

Rough Math Lesson

Today’s math lesson was awful. My goal was to help my third graders better understand estimating and actually estimate. During our whole group time it felt like it was challenging but working. Then they went off to do independent work and it was clear I was wildly wrong.

Multiple students wanted to sit with me to get more help as they worked. That’s not uncommon. But nothing I said to them was helping. My explanations and strategies were total fails. By the end I fear some of my students actually understood less than when we had started.

So clearly that’s not my one good thing.

Luckily, there are a couple of good things.

1. We did our first Esti-Mystery and the kids were highly engaged. It was awesome.

2. Even through that awful lesson during which I was wildly unable to help them, they were super engaged and working so hard. They wanted to understand. They were awesome.