It’s simple math

Mr. McCauley was my physics and Calculus teacher in high school.  He taught me many things, and some of those had to do with math and science.  He was my inspiration in more ways than one — I wanted to be Mr. McCauley.  It sounds a little weird when I say it, and it’s about to become even stranger.

Mr. McCauley was a bear of a man.  A short bear of a man, but a bear of a man anyway.  He had the hair of Grizzly Adams and the beard to match – just in black.  I wanted that.  I wanted to be a rugged looking man with square shoulders and a bushy beard that hung down over my chest.  Unfortunately, to this day, over twenty years after leaving Mr. McCauley’s class, I still only need to shave every three days, and that is more so that the stubble doesn’t annoy my children than because of how it looks.

But I also wanted to be him.  He attended MIT and majored in science and math.  When asked why, he gave a simple and short answer: “They were my toughest subjects.”

English was mine.  I followed Mr. McCauley, on a different path,  and attacked my hardest subject, majoring in English.

But, even as an English teacher, I’ve always been struck that school is all about math.  Want honor role?  The grades have to add up.  Want a high score on a paper?  You have to get the points.  Want to earn an “A” in Earth Science?  Look at the percentages.  It’s all math.

But there is other math that many people don’t seem to notice.  It’s the math of the classroom.  I try to help parents see this math by making it visual.

When a parent sees a classroom, it’s simple.  There is a teacher = 1.  There is a student = 1.  There is a parent supporting the student = 1 (sometimes two, but to keep this in the realm of my abilities, let’s say one).  So, 1+1+1 ≈ 48.

Did I lose you?  It really is simple.  See, let’s say, on average, that you have 23 students in your class.  That is 23 kids.  Plus, all of those students have at least one parent who is supporting them; that is 23 parents (at a minimum) (23+23 = 46); then, there is a teacher, and also an administrator (46+2=48).  Sure, there may be many others, but that’s the minimum.

Now picture this:  You have a room — average room – circa 1950’s, maybe new tile – white with grey flecks (it’s all the rage).  There are whiteboards (they are actually chalk boards that have been covered with white board material).  It’s got desks in it — usual desks – very similar, if not the same, as those you sat in while in high school.  Then there are 23 kids.  Now imagine that behind each of them stands 1 parent, and in front of the class, there is 1 teacher, and an administrator standing directly beside her, and usually other people too — support services, special educators, intervention specialists, counselors, testing coordinators.

And suddenly, the math makes sense.  The math of why it is taking so long to return a paper.  The math of why a phone call wasn’t returned.  The math of why the teacher wasn’t able to take the time to do that one other thing.

But, what I’ve found, is in that math there is great power – the power of compassion.  An opportunity for the community to begin to realize that with all of those people, there is so much that can be, could be, done.

So, even though I may have focused in English, my toughest subject, I think Mr. McCauley would be proud of my math skills. 1+1+1 = y


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