The MEGnitude of Change

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Nov 25 2012

The task of juggling: soccer balls & geometry problems

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.” — Marianne Williamson

This quotation has always resonated with me, ringing in my ears whenever I feel myself holding back. But why? I had never known, until this week.

On Friday, my roommate and I played soccer along the banks of Lake Hefner. We kicked the ball back and forth lazily, as neither one of us felt particularly skilled at soccer. More than anything, we wanted to enjoy the nice weather & each others’ company. However, after a while, my roommate started juggling the ball between his feet, showing off the few tricks he had mastered during his days as a child soccer star. After a minute, he called me over, insisting that I was going to learn how to juggle a soccer ball. I laughed and dragged my feet as I moved toward him, stalling for time. I didn’t want to try — I didn’t think I’d be good at it.

He threw the ball at me, and my knee hit it back up into the air…and across the field. We laughed, and he threw the ball again. After five or six fumbled juggling attempts, I groaned. “Adrian! I don’t want to do this anymore!”

“Wow, Meg, you really don’t like failing, do you?”

Yep. Adrian is right. I don’t like failing. I don’t even like trying something when I feel that failure is a possibility. I don’t like the feeling of falling flat on my face in front of others — and if I feel like that’s a possibility, I don’t even try. While I like to consider myself a risk taker, the risks that I pursue have relatively high odds of success. I’m calculating when I place my personal bets, only attempting what I have reason to believe I can do well.

But this is not a mentality I accept from my students. Each day in the classroom, I call on them to make an effort. To try solving math problems, even if they’ve failed time & again & again. Quite frankly, I shouldn’t be surprised when my students drag their feet and hesitate before trying — my reaction to challenges where the odds aren’t in my favor is no different from theirs.

However, a few of my students have escaped this all-too-typical pattern. A few accept seemingly impossible odds with grace & humility. They come into my room during lunch & after school, attempting problems on the board — accepting their mistakes with boldness. They risk failure each day, and I look up to them. At this rate, I will never successfully juggle a soccer ball, but I have every faith that these exceptional, bold students can learn to master math problems.

So, why do Marianne Williams’ words resonate with me? Because we can only achieve greatness, our full potential, by risking bold & complete failure. We must try what seems impossible. Our egos may bruise, but they will not crack or shatter — and in time, our self-confidence will grow. I must start to accept these students of mine as role models. I must learn to risk complete failure myself if I am ever to ask my students to do the same.

“…as we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

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My journey in mathematics and beyond


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