Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Spare Change

Very few things would ever cause me to miss the opportunity to teach, mathematics especially. My 18 days in the hospital recently physically prevented me from being in the classroom, but it didn't prevent me from tutoring students from the relative comforts of my hospital room.

When school's in session, I'm generally there. If I'm there, I'm up in front of the room pontificating precalculus, clarifying calculus, and making hilariously bad jokes often at my expense to keep the students from growing listless, apathetic, bored, or belligerent.

The only time I can remember suspending my lessons was on that fateful, unforgettable day on September 11, 2001. On that day, math took a back seat to watching the events unfold in front of us on the television mounted behind the podium, a television that had previously been reserved for morning video announcements, the extremely rare math video, and early morning Sportscenter. I felt very empty that day, and not just because of the attacks and loss of lives, but also because of the lack of math. I failed to get my required quota of instruction I need to feel good at the end of the day, like I've made a difference. I'm not saying I went home that day and worked math problems in the corner of my room (it wasn't in the corner!) or that I gave a faux lesson to the empty chairs around my dining room table (I sat my wife and son down in two of them!!), but I did look forward to resuming both of them on the next class day.

If such a momentousness, math-supplanting event took place every 8 years, it would still be too often in my book, but low and behold, in slightly less than that, it happened again today.

With a full lesson planned for my AP Calculus AB class today, I had every preconceivable notion to deliver a full 90-minute bombastic, informative, education, over-the-top, once-in-a-lifetime lesson. That was, until I realized that the Constitution requires new presidents to be sworn in at noon Eastern time (which is 11am in my Central time zone), and that today a new president was in fact scheduled to take the oath of office. Not only was this a historical occasion for obvious reasons, but the constitutional time slot was 30 minutes into my calculus class--enough time for me to squeeeeeeze in a quick review of the Intermediate Value, Extreme Value, and Mean Value theorems and still tune into the historic inauguration ceremony.

The old me deep down inside was resisting the idea, knowing that we'd hear and read about it outside of class. The new me, however, decided that the event, although not of the same caliber of gravitas of 9/11, was one that nonetheless warranted mathematics taking a back seat. The old me rationalized the decision of the softer, wiser new me and told me that shutting down the mathematics and watching the inauguration and subsequent speech was really calculus after all.
Calculus is the study of change!! Right?! Well, today's inauguration is all about change! Right?! What better way to study change than to witness it firsthand? So watching the inauguration is actually calculus after all!!!!! Clever, I know.
Thanks to my old self, and a lot of "arm twisting" of my students, who reluctantly (not really) and gleefully followed the advice and suggestion of the teacher they have come to know and trust with all their heart. And so with the approval of the students, I forewent a lesson of a lifetime (If not the lesson of a particular Tuesday) for an event of a lifetime.

As we watched the ceremonies and the speech, we all realized that we had to keep our eyes on the horizon while we also paid attention to what was in front of us, lest we trip over a pot hole. We learned that we had to continue to work hard to achieve our goals (do our homework) and that we had to open the doors of opportunity for all who are willing to try (spread the joy of math to others.) Most of all, after Chief Justice John Roberts fubbed the wording of the official oath, we learned that mistakes are just part of the learning process, and should be avoided if possible, especially if the entire nation is watching.

I hope the students absorbed the new president's message of hope, because next time we meet in class, I'm HOPING to cover two lessons to make up for the lost time.


Brenda said...

I was kind of tired of Obama speeches by the end of the day. At least I know he will faithfully execute...or execute faithfully? his duty as president.

kwkorpi said...

really, it's an adverb, so it can technically go anywhere, except that the official oath has it in the front. Even after Roberts corrected himself at the urging of Obama, Obama recited it like Roberts originally erred it.

I wonder if that means that his Presidency is "invalid?"

Anonymous said...

I guess he had the same question as they redid the oath in his office. They didn'd use a bible the second time so I wonder if that makes it invalid? I think not!