Monday, March 2, 2009

The Numbers Game

I was a good math student when I was in elementary school. I had no problem with addition and subtraction, and I made straight A's in multiplication; old Mrs. Kelly who kept losing her glasses (we were too scared to tell her they were on top of her head) made us memorize the times tables. It wasn't until I got to junior high that math became a problem.

In seventh grade, Mrs. Sigmon could never say my name correctly so I slid down in my seat, trying to be invisible, so she wouldn't call on me. In eighth grade I had an algebra teacher who was married to a member of a local motorcycle gang. Mrs. Lawson came to school bruised and bleeding on many days; there were rumors about her husband's abusive behavior. And although she was sweet and really tried to help me, I could only concentrate on the bruises on her hands when she'd point to my paper.

Before long sporting events and boys received more of my attention than math, and I found myself slipping in that subject area. Luckily, I was an avid reader and writer so I didn't give up on school altogether. I just gave up on anything related to numbers. As an adult, I struggle still. I can't remember a phone number from the phone book to the phone unless I repeat it...555-1234, 555-1234, 555-1234...

That's why I'm having a hard time wrapping myself around the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act signed into law by President Obama last month. Every article I read sounds like this to me: "a gazillion million dollars will go to this, but of that gazillion million, a trillion billion must be set aside for that, and two dollars will be charged to every homeowner who has a dog with a spotted tongue, but homeowners with cats that have more than eight whiskers will be paid a stipend of one dollar per whisker over the allotted eight."

Seriously. I wake up in the morning, and it's on the news - numbers, numbers, numbers. Every email I open continues the counting. Here's what I read this morning:

Already $2 billion in the red, the state faces a $3 billion shortfall next fiscal year.

And this afternoon:

The Governor may finally be thinking about raising new revenue to address next year's $4 billion shortfall.

Wait. How did the "shortfall" gain a billion dollars from this morning until this afternoon? Did we spend a billion dollars during the day today? Or is it only one billion? I mean do we take the $3 billion mentioned first and add the "already $2 billion?" But doesn't that make $5 billion and not $4 billion? I'm so confused.

Here's what I'm not confused about: we are in the middle of a critical economic crisis, and of course it's affecting our schools. I'm saddened to hear stories about after-school programs ending and teacher assistants losing their jobs. But I do know this: teachers will rise above any budget shortfalls, economic downturns, or billion dollar deficits thrown at them and continue to educate our nation's children every single day until the "recovery" is here.

I sincerely believe that I can take my students outside and teach them using a blade of grass if I have to...and that's free. I've heard it over and over the past few months - "with crisis comes opportunity." I believe teachers will grasp the opportunity to educate children with the same sense of urgency we've always had. Teachers are innovative and creative, and it's going to take more than a shortfall of a gazillion million dollars to knock us down.

Why? Because the alternative is not an option. We cannot refuse to educate the children of America while the adults of this country try to straighten things out. Also, it's those very children who will grow up and be the adults who make sure this doesn't happen again. And because of that, we must work to teach them what they need to know to be able to grow up and do their jobs effectively.

Most likely our students are going to need a great deal of instruction on numbers.

Maybe I can sit in on a class...


Becca said...

Thank you for sharing your own experience with math in middle school and understand numbers and the economic crisis now. I am a student going to school to become a middle school math and science teacher. It was really inspiring to hear your thoughts about what you think about teaching in a time like today. I hope that when I graduate and have a classroom of my own I will be able to use the resources I have to teach students without using a ton of money. I hope I can be an effective teacher and teach students the way they need to be taught no matter the situation.

Nicolasa said...

Your writing captured me right away and before I knew it, I was at the end of the entry. I am a 4th grade teacher and recently explained to my struggling long division students that I was not great in math when I was there age. I pointed out that I had to work hard, get a tutor, and never give up, because if I had would I be teaching them today...

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful and poetic meandering up to the point of your post.

YES, maybe it is time that teachers think more about the basics- the basics of human relationships and reaching that one child (still free as well). I would trade all the gizmos and extras in a classroom for a teacher who honstly embodies the principles most of us loftily espoused when we first got into teaching.

I can't help but think that Mr. Myagi is looking down and smiling at your post. Wax on, wax off.