What Gift Do I Bring?

(Week 4: Final response for #VConHM.  THANK YOU @SamJShah2 and @HKhodai for creating and facilitating this conference to engage ALL OF US in humanizing mathematics. Mad love for you both!

 These quotes guided my thinking and reflection for this post:

“How do we get teachers to develop the capacity to not just become advocates for students but become skilled advocates for students and learn how to push back on the system?” ~Dr. Rochelle Gutiérrez, @RG1gal

“… to bring more humanity back to the math classroom … that helps students recognize that mathematics is a human practice that people practice it in other parts of the world that you can use math as a tool for doing things other than getting good grades in school but maybe analyzing the society.” ~ Dr. Rochelle Gutiérrez, @RG1gal

 “What will be your gift you give to your students?” ~ Usha Shanmugathasan, @MathStudio_Usha

I have sat for days with the goal of finishing my fourth and final post for the #VConHM conference. I have spent decades fearing the written word: the actual product of words, produced by me, written onto a page. There are a million reasons that are fading into the background, becoming less colorful and vocal and more residual and opaque, because I am starting to provide for me, what I have provided for others: safe space.

My ultimate goal for ANYONE with whom I interact is to provide safe space: a place where one is listened to, heard, comforted and loved. So much of our interactions in the world engage in/stem from fear, hate, discomfort and misinformation. Through the many teachings of all the humans with whom I have engaged, including and most prominently my children and the children I have taught, safe space is the gift I want to bring to and share with others.

The teachings of my daughter: My daughter has helped me better understand how to support and learn from people that balance life while managing mental health as a way of being. The teachings of my youth relied on religious beliefs to solve all problems. The idea of mental health, healthy or otherwise, was disregarded and remained secret. I took for granted the ease with which one could move through life and never have to navigate one’s life through a different lens. For my daughter, it was mental health and managing it to be an active participant in life. Living life to its fullest came easy to me. The experiences I observed and shared with my daughter opened my mind to the possibilities of how life was lived differently than what I knew to be normal (middle class, white, cisgender, able-bodied, Christian) And that these experiences were as empowering and beautiful as mine were to me. I am thankful for these teachings. I have been a better support person/teacher/coach/human because I make space for differences that allow the whole human to be seen and heard. I judge less and listen more.

The teachings of my students circa late 1990s: As a young, energetic HS math teacher, I was given many responsibilities in addition to my teaching load: running a computer lab while being the tech support, coaching track, coaching math team and coaching soccer, just to name a few. And, on top of teaching a full load and all the extra-curricular activities, students were in my classroom during lunch, before school, after school and during my prep time. I was a ‘den mother’ of sorts; my classroom became the place where students could BE and share stories, laughter and sorrow. For better or for worse, I was young and naive, but I loved these students as my own. They helped me create boundaries as a teacher vs. being their mother, provide love and comfort in times of need, and LEARN. From two particular students, they taught me that I could not FIX them or their situations, but I could LISTEN, be a caring adult, and help them them navigate their world when their lives were S&*%! They taught me, through thoughts, words and deeds, how to be a better math teacher, mother, woman, human. They inspired me to attain my masters degree in counseling and psychology, but, as I have always said, that degree just continued to help me improve as an educator, specifically when working with teachers and students. I am beyond blessed that, 20 years later, I continue to have a relationship with these two students, as well as many of others, as they have grown and become fabulous adults that continue to share community with me.

The teachings of my students, circa 2019: Now, heading into my 50th year on the planet, I am thankful to continue to be able to spend my days within the confines of educational facilities that host a variety and myriad of amazing young people. I started coaching middle school math teachers about four years ago, and, after 25 years at the high school level, I now ABSOLUTELY LOVE MIDDLE SCHOOLERS! Their humor, innocence, abrupt personality changes, excitement about random things (even learning sometimes) brings me awe, love and patience that I never knew possible. As an older (wiser?) educator, I don’t follow “rules” like I used to, I don’t adhere to “all the policies” as I once did and I definitely let students be more themselves than I have in the past. I had the opportunity to work with a small group of 7th grade boys last year that provided me with a challenge to teach, guide and engage while giving the other teacher an opportunity to teach with ‘less distractions.’ Know that the learning with the group of boys was loud, energetic and possibly physical, but learning DID happen. The highest compliment I was paid was when, trying, yet again, to help guide a particular 7th grader in calming his volume and physicality was, “Yeah, but Ms. Everhart, you’re the only one that let’s me be ME. It’s 6th period and I have been controlling my actions and voice all day! Here I can be myself!” How else do I respond except with more love, kindness and patience.

I am so thankful to still be a part of the educational system. Though I consistently attempt to disrupt the inequalities, racism, and inadequate policies and procedures that plague our current system, I am thankful for my previous and continued learning. I continue to provide positive and human interactions for ALL students and staff in schools. As I continue to unlearn, relearn, read, discuss and reflect, I am beyond grateful for all the people that have been ‘teachers’ for me, as I continue to learn from, grow with and better understand so that I continue to provide safe spaces for ALL the humans with whom I interact.