Lillian naturally comes to mind when I plan a lesson. She eats it up. She goes above and beyond. She’s thoughtful and appreciative. She shares her thinking with the class in mindful and modest doses. She smiles quietly at my jokes. I wish I had a copy of all her math work — especially her written reflections — because each and every piece holds the joy of my teaching. Here’s one:
At the Continuation ceremony last year, Lillian delivered a succinct and grateful valedictorian speech.
A month ago, on March 11, I got an email from her.
I was looking at old pictures on your Twitter and in my camera roll, and I could totally see how much I loved your class. I was tearing up. I’m moving up to Math 3 Honors next year, yet I’m not sure I’ll ever be as excited about math as I was in your class. My current class is something of speed and prior knowledge… Not my favorite environment for growth, but you live and you learn to deal with it.
To this day, I remember so many little things about your classes. You truly changed the way I saw the world. I think my intense activism and political vocalness is in part your doing. I use my voice because you gave me one. I’m not a shy little sixth grader anymore. I’m beginning to come into my own as a badass bisexual intersectional feminist. I’m learning, and you pushed me to do so. There’s a lot of work for me to do on myself and the world around me. Maybe my first pattern equation wasn’t so far away (You told me “just because her equation is right, yours isn’t any less right”).
I miss being her teacher. I miss watching her persevere and hearing her explain her thinking in number talks.
Then, last week on April 7, late in the evening, I saw this video of Lillian posted on Twitter by her friend, Sam. I asked Sam for a copy and got Lillian’s permission to share it here.
I cried hard. Not because her poem is eloquent and powerful and makes me so goddamn proud, but because her message is all too real and urgent. The expectations placed on students by parents and teachers — on top of self-expectations — can be and are enormous.
We talk a good talk — about respecting the child and letting her learn at the speed of learning, about persevering and playing with mathematics, about nourishing critical and deep thinking in problem-solving, about ensuring access and equity, about cultivating a voice grounded in truth and heart.
But I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t always walk the walk. I’m bound to a system that requires me to issue a grade at the end of the quarter. I have to do this for each child four times a year. Because that’s just how it is.
At what cost?