Earlier this week, on my 48th birthday, I teared up in my first period calculus class after reading a collection of birthday notes from my students. One student presented the construction paper compendium embellished with personal notes to me while half of the class were at the white boards working on problems I selected as a review for their final. As students worked behind me, and the others watched the work from their seats, I made it through the first ten or so notes before the cumulative weight of their words broke through and touched my heart. Time stood still for a moment as the rush of emotions carried me away. Not wanting to show my teary eyes, I looked down and away while dismissing myself from my classroom. Standing on the ramp to my portable, the sun beating down on my face, I let myself feel the release of emotions, and the beauty of the moment. It felt terrific.
Composing myself after a minute or two, I re-entered my classroom expecting to sneak back as students finished working the problems at the board. Little had I taken three steps when the entire class burst out singing “Happy Birthday” to me, in a most thunderous fashion. I sat on top of the closest empty desk, facing most of my students, and attempted to speak. I could not. Words would not form. I choked up on several more words before regaining my composure, thanking students for their thoughtfulness and for sharing the journey this past year with me. I spoke for a few more minutes relaying, again, my wish to help students overcome challenges as they pursued higher learning, as well as a brief mention of my personal story for why I teach. They seemed genuinely touched by my words, which aligned well with what many wrote to me in their notes.
After I finished speaking, we consumed the three dozen donuts, three gallons of milk, and Nesquik they brought to class that morning; they knew I liked chocolate milk and donuts. After letting me choose the first donut, several students stood in line and gave me a hug. Their humanity and appreciation made my day. And calculus review had to wait until the next morning.
Here are three of the notes I received. I edited out names. I may post others in the future, as they could offer hope to all who struggle with a similar situation.Thank you, Mr. Math Teacher, for always pushing us to do our best and believing that we are capable of achieving great things in the world of mathematics. I must admit that I am impressed on how well you rebounded back after the controversial first six weeks of the year. Especially for a first year teacher, which is another thing that impresses me; that a first year teacher is taking on an A.P. Calculus class filled with students that haven’t exactly received the best mathematics education in the world during their prior school years. I know we’ve had our ups and downs, and that we aren’t the most motivated students around, but this year has been a real eye-opener for most of us on how useful mathematics, especially calculus, is in the real world, and on behalf of the class, I thank you for this great deed that you have done for us. Student 1 The beginning of the year was tough and a hard transition for most of us which was very unfair to you. I apologize for those tumultuous six weeks, but would also like to thank you for the tremendous job you did teaching us calculus this year. You adapted your teaching methods to fit our needs which is a tough job being a first year teacher and I thank you. I am very proud to say that I was taught calculus by Mr. Math Teacher. Thanks for a great year! Student 2 Mr. Math Teacher, you are one hell of a teacher. Even though school started off on a bad note, things quickly turned around and the classroom turned into a great learning environment. I am grateful for all of the late nights and stress you have gone through for us because it has really helped us learn new concepts of calculus. Thank you for everything you have done. Student 3