In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, Edmodo employees are sharing personal stories of teachers from their past—stories to show you that everything you do leaves a lasting impression years (sometimes decades) later.
It’s funny how one day school is over, then you enter the real world as an adult with a career. You feel like the opportunity to learn is gone because learning seems always to be associated with going to school. But that’s not true at all. In a career, you’re constantly learning and evolving. I’ve always loved learning, and one of the most amazing things about working at Edmodo is that I get the best of both going back to the classroom environment and learning in my career.
There was a time, however, when I didn’t like learning, and that was in 6th grade math class. My teacher, Mr. Newburger (we all called him Mr. New), was phenomenal. Kind, energetic, and encouraging, he was the type of person you one day hoped to be. Infamous for his “funsheets,” which we would be assigned on a nightly basis as homework, the problems we had to solve seemed impossible. I could never grasp how he came up with them, let alone solved them! And then there were the “monthly problems”—problem sets that you had to have a PhD in Mathematics to figure out.
My class had so many smart kids, and there were (as there always are) those math geniuses. And then there was me: lost, struggling, and really hating math. I couldn’t seem to find the logic in it all. During our late morning consultation period, where students were encouraged to collaborate with peers on assignments or seek help from their teachers, I was in Mr. New’s classroom trying to wrap my brain around the material. He was determined to break through to me, and after weeks of extra assistance and explanation, something clicked.
The whole time I wanted there to be some sort of memorizable way to do these problems. A formula, if you will, that could be applied to certain problem sets and always yield the right answer. What Mr. New helped me to realize is that you can’t memorize your way through logic; you must think each problem out and appreciate it for all its idiosyncratic challenges. So meander my way through each nuanced problem I did. I’m not going to pretend that I turned into a math genius, nor will I claim that every problem from that point forward was done perfectly. But I did manage to pull an A- in the class—a feat I had deemed impossible at the start of the year.
What’s so interesting, and something I realized when I sat down to write this blog post, is the metaphorical significance of my math struggles. The ability to see a problem and tackle it as its own challenge is a lesson I’ve learned to apply to all facets of life. That’s perhaps the biggest lesson any educator can ever teach, because you will forever be faced with some sort of obstacle, no matter how big or small.
Now, if I had to do a word problem today, I would probably fail miserably. But what I can do confidently is know that no matter what lies ahead, I’ll persevere through the challenge and succeed. I never imagined that math class would be a driving force behind this existential epiphany. But, in the end, my least favorite subject has become a guiding force in life. And I have Mr. New to thank for it.