Letters vs. Numbers

Published 6:00 am Saturday, May 16, 2009

It still happens. Some nave student asks for my help with super–extra–hard math.

“Do you ever wonder why I’m not your math teacher,” I try to ask without sarcasm. “I cannot help you with your math.”

Our Write Night T–shirts this year sported this Maslow quote: “A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself.”

My friend, Keri Ross, math department chairperson at Pelham High wanted us to add “and a mathematician must compute” to Maslow’s statement. Ross and I have an ongoing debate about whether math or English is the most important school subject.

Ross teaches super–extra–hard math, only she calls it pre–cal. Pelham High School also offers advanced placement calculus, along with a wide array of other math courses. Ross and her department must be doing a great job because our students are excited about math. PHS math teams worked hard this year. Mrs. Creel’s advanced math team and Mrs. Austin’s geometry team both won third place in the Shelby County Math Tournament competitions.

Algebra teacher, Emily Murray, recently won our school’s first ever CBS 42 One Class at a Time grant, which she received for the letter she wrote to the television station. She wrote, “This is my second year at Pelham High School and I love it! I am a math teacher, teaching Algebra 1A and Algebra 1. These Algebra classes are the foundation to our students’ learning of mathematics. Algebra is applied to our every day lives. With this grant, I want to show students how learning Algebra can be fun and exciting by providing a classroom that is new and modern.”

I don’t know exactly how algebra is applied to our every day lives, but I do admire Murray’s enthusiasm and her winning words.

On my students’ birthdays, I give them birthday bookmarks. Ross gives her students happy birthday pencils. Both items have their value: bookmarks mark our place so we don’t forget how far we’ve come and pencils create erasable marks in case we need to go back and correct our errors. Remembering what we’ve learned and having the wisdom to correct our errors are both valuable skills. Perhaps making sense of the world with numbers or letters isn’t so different after all.