Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Building Lives

Teaching math is one of the most challenging and rewarding things a capable and able-minded individual can enjoyably endure. Although I really don’t teach math, I do teach kids. And what is mode of my madness? Nothing other than math, or mathematics (as it is know to those who like to sound pompous and pretentious).

So Why did I switch out of Chemical Engineering during my junior year of college, just prior to a lucrative internship with Dow Chemical??? Because I didn’t want to live in Houston, or Springfield, or wherever I was likely to work. I was a graduate of NBHS, as well as my then girlfriend, now wife. I wanted to stay close to home, where I could obtain cheap, quality day care (via grandmas and grandpas) for my family I envisioned. So why math? I had more math credits than any other, chemistry was a close second. To assuage the anger of my parents, and boy, were they upset, I needed to get out of college in 4 years. Math was the only expedient choice that would allow me to sit at the “big people” table at Thanksgiving.

And . . . I didn’t even go into teaching directly out of college. Why. . ., I took my BS in math from UT and I did the obvious: I took a job as a residential construction manager (CM) with a home building company out of San Antonio. The money was great. With a cabinet-making and framing background from college, the learning curve was not that great. I was soon the leading CM in the San Antonio area. But . . . the opportunity came with the great flood of ’98 to go into business for myself, primarily doing flood-damaged remodel jobs. A good friend of mine and I did all the work ourselves. The money belt tightened up. Self-employment was a difficult thing. I gained great respect for the entrepreneurial-minded business man. When it comes to business, I am an infant, and always will be.

I will never forget the day that the cell phone rang, “Dang it!!! Another complaining homeowner or subcontractor!!!”

“Hello (softly and professionally). This is Kevin. Mrs. Birdwell!! My gosh!! I haven’t talked to you since I totally aced your PreAP Precal class my junior year. How have you been? Really? How’s my math? Well, I have a BS in Math, and just between me and you, that’s exactly what some of those upper-level courses were. I mean, the numbers started disappearing and more and more letters took their place. I’m sorry, I went off on a tangent . . . you get it . . . a tangent!!!!! Anyway. You need a Calculus teacher!! Nobody wants the job? Really? Why not? I’d have to think about it . . . . really? Nobody wants it???!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Well, I’m not certified, only this BS in math thing. OH!! You’ve already talked to the principal and the job is mine if I want it!!! (Pssssssst, “oh no”) Nothing, the air-nailer just mis-fired and now I have a sheetrock repair.

Well, I guess it might be easier managing parents than homeowners, and students might be more responsive than subcontractors, so . . . . . you got yourself a deal. I start in one month? Good, my partner will be overjoyed!!! Post-graduate certification . . . here I come.”

So it was by a fateful, determined act of fate (or a god, or even God) that I ended up where I’m at. And to answer my own na├»ve, incredulous question from above: 1) Parents are more emotional about their children than their homes and thus harder to “manage,” and 2) Subcontractors are often more responsive than students (because of a little thing called greenbacks).

As it turned out, I took a tremendous pay cut, but I fill richer now than ever, for teaching is the last, greatest, unappreciated profession in the world. To come into class on a daily basis and impart wisdom to a captive audience (mostly, and this must be earned), is the greatest and most awesome responsibility, privilege, and rewarding experience that I can imagine.

Previously, I made homes. But, it was always the people that made the house a home. Now I get to make the house, although they will not be built for awhile.

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