And other lessons from teaching special ed math
Posted originally on Medium
Every day I fire up the computer and teach Special Ed math for one of the largest school districts in the country. And while my end game is to coach women to write books full time, this waiting period in my life is a wonderful reminder to remember my daily mantra:
Instead of asking “Why is this happening to me?” I always ask “What is this trying to teach me?” Then God gives me a download I never would have come up with on my own.
Today was no exception. My first class of the day consisted of 10 sixth graders. These kids are in my room because they struggle with things as basic as two digit multiplication and single division. When I first began teaching in August, I had very high hopes for this online class. I’d spend my days encouraging them to memorize their times tables.
When that wasn’t happening, I encouraged them to use their online multiplication charts to get an answer.
When that wasn’t happening, I started reminding them to “Give me a thumbs up!” to at least know they were paying attention.
When that wasn’t happening I began calling their names, one by one, asking them to unmute and shout out the answers.
Yay! That worked!
Desperate, I asked them to use the Chat feature to type out their answers.
Chat was a big success! Well, for them, not me. Instead of using it to go over math, they used it as a social forum. “Hiyo!” “Hi!” “Hola!” “Wasss up, homie?” and the occasional, “Who likes to play Among Us?” flooded the screen. I quickly learned how to work the Zoom security feature. “Chat Disable?” Check!
It’s not a shock that discontent settled in by Month 2. Thoughts of “Why bother?” were the norm, and while I’d attempt to combat it with my positive self-talk “You’re getting paid well, Lady” I often ended my day with one very conflicted jumbo thought: “You’re getting tax payers dollars to re-enact the teacher from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Is this what you’ve become?”
But, thanks to a few solid years of a strong Morning Practice, my mind very quickly shifted to a more productive question. To quote a woman from my 12-step program, that question was no other than, “What would God have me do?”
That’s a pretty powerful question, because sometimes we enter hard seasons. But it’s really the only one to ask if we want to stay grounded and serene, despite some rough wind in our sails.
If we look for life to reward us like a slot machine, we’re going to be sorely disappointed at our empty pockets. But if God is the ultimate wealth, then we can shift our attention to the real riches that await us if we are willing to do His will.
I’m lucky enough, after years of wandering around aimlessly with a talent for writing and people skills, but not a plan, to know what my ultimate purpose is: It’s to be of maximum service to God and others.
This doesn’t mean I want to be part of some rigid religious system or personal self-denial routine where I self-will my way into being a saint. (I get grouchy and eat far too many quiches for the austere deprivation lifestyle.) But it does mean that I can have all the creativity in the world, but if I’m not aligning my purpose and daily plans with my Higher Power’s, I’m like a bull in china shop, causing damage wherever I roam. And no one gets more damaged from being untethered than me. I need guidelines to feel centered. My boisterous aunt used to refer to her engineer husband as “The string on her high flying balloon” and so it is with my spiritual practice.
The real secret for me in becoming grounded, then, is quite counter-intuitive: To find serenity, I often must do the opposite of what I, as Andrea, wants to do to be happy. (Example: No sleeping in ’til 10 each day, spending my entire savings on a house remodel and drinking enough caffeine to jumpstart a Porsche.) Instead, it’s about doing more of what I believe God would have me do to make others happy.
When I keep my mind on service, instead of self, it’s shocking how peaceful my life goes. And, in doing so, I end up happy! Who knew?
Everyone Has Absolute Value… and Other Life Lessons Stuffed into Math
Today, after my Morning Practice, I was still feeling rather tired from the past two months of madness. I threw in an extra prayer, “God, please, help me get out of the way so I can do your bidding.”
When I surrender my self-will run riot, I find God’s purpose for me in a most unexpected, but typical of my cheeky Higher Power, way. Today was no exception.
I was showing the kids the difference between negative six and positive six on a number line.
“It’s all about the steps back to zero!” I said. “No matter what direction you head, the absolute value is the same. And, here’s a fun fact, absolute value can never be negative!”
That went over like a Trump speech at a Democrat rally. Without even thinking — which I instinctively knew was my Higher Power talking through me — I continued, “It’s like you as people. You are all so important. Think of ‘Zero’ like your Higher Power, or your mom, or some amazing person who loves you unconditionally. It’s natural to want to take steps closer to it. And, like the numbers on the number line, it doesn’t matter if you have ‘negative’ qualities. You are loved so much. You are precious. You have absolute value.”
Seconds later a beautiful brown eyed tween turned on her camera and just looked at me, eyes sunk in… tired. I looked right at her and smiled big.
“You know, Devi, you have absolute value. Are you aware of that?”
Her voice cracked a bit. “Yes,” she muttered. I could tell she meant, “WTF, who are you kidding, Ms. Frizzle?”
But her eyes stayed locked on mine. And I told her how glad I was she was in my class, even if was over the internet. I told her how I couldn’t wait to see her in person when school opened. I told her I’d hug her if I could, but I can’t (and don’t want to be fired for being a perv) so I’d just high five her from 10 feet away. Behind plexi-glass.
I think she got it. Who knows? She exited class early and I didn’t see her the next day.
So here’s the deal, readers: I’m not trying to get a pat on the back here. In moving on with her daily routine, it’s possible she forgot all about being loved unconditionally. But I like to think that she held on to it for the day, the way a smell of a birthday candle and people’s laughter lingers in the room long after the candles are blown out.
And even if she doesn’t remember her value, by telling her she had it, I will remember mine. And for a rough couple months, that’s a pretty good place to start again.
Until next time,
I’m a published TV, blog, magazine and book writer who also coaches moms and grandmoms to write books rooted in wisdom, spirituality and humor.
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