Listening to Their Stories

As my other colleagues have mentioned, it was a privilege to present to over 300 preschool teachers last month. Even though we each prepared our individual sessions, it was truly a collaborative effort. My specific presentation was on the topic of mathematical play, but I was also encouraged to share a portion of my own math story with the participants. Each of us made a purposeful effort to tie in the Keynote presented by our senior researcher, Paul Reimer, which focused on the idea of listening to each other’s stories. My story begins almost 100 years ago with my great, great grandmother and her passion for education. Her name was Alejandra and she was born in a time and place where the education of girls was not valued (which gravely is still true for some places in the world). At the age of 60 she raised my father, and imprinted on him the importance and priceless gift of learning. Although I only knew her for the first 5 years of my life, she left a lasting impression on me and I credit her in great part to my own love of learning.

Many teachers throughout the pre-service day mentioned to me how the story I shared was inspirational, and some could relate to my grandmother’s plight as a young girl. Stories can be so powerful. This is a lesson I am coming to learn in an even deeper way. As the early math team starts off a new year working with teachers, we began the task of interviewing the teachers. In essence, we wanted to know their stories. It would take more words than my blog could hold to tell you all the inspirational stories I heard – stories of heart, courage, perseverance, and love. These stories left me in awe of the amazing people who care for our most priceless gifts. I saw in every woman I interviewed a commitment of love and sincere care for the children entrusted to them. Most of these women were former parents, who, while volunteering, were encouraged to become the teachers they so admired. They made the effort to go back to school and faced incredible odds to finally earn a place as a teacher or teacher assistant. Many of these stories included a difficult experience with mathematics. This is where I feel our stories intersect. As we work with teachers this year and focus on children’s mathematics, I know that we cannot ignore the teacher’s mathematics. One cannot happen without affecting the other.

What is happening is inevitable – the teachers’ stories have become mine and the stories of the children we work with this year will become ours. Many people think of mathematics as a stoic field, where the only colors are black and white. But the truth is math is full of colors for it was composed through the effort of many generations of stories. My hope is that the teachers we work with will began to see math in this new light. And thus begin more stories.

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