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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Math Geek Mom: Exponential Growth
September 16, 2010 - 7:13pm

When I was a child, there was a commercial on (black and white) TV that had a very happy woman telling a friend about some beauty product, and then that friend told several friends about it, "and so on, and so on, and so on." The way news of this beauty product was spread mimics exponential growth, where the number of people told is raised to a power with each telling. I could not help but think of such growth when I learned recently of the death of one of my colleagues from our Department of Education. She was a teacher of teachers, and so her effect lives on not just in the inspiration she gave her own students, but in the work that those students do with students of their own.

I first met Ginny when I arrived at Ursuline and discovered that the Mathematics Department that I had inherited was central in the training of students who were becoming math teachers. Ursuline plays an important role in training teachers for those positions that at times go wanting, due to lack of qualified mathematics teachers in the region. Together, we revised the track in the education program that trains students to teach math. As part of that revision we received a grant to add a course that teaches our students to employ the “inquiry method” to teaching math, in which mathematical concepts are learned through active exploration, and this class soon became the signature class for our middle school mathematics education program. I remember meeting with Ginny once in the course of that revision and not recognizing her. It was more than the fact that I was new to campus or that I have difficulty with names and faces; she was wearing a wig, and was not surprised that I was having trouble knowing who she was. It wasn’t long before that round of chemotherapy was over and her own hair grew back. She went on with her life, and I went on to begin scheduling the new class in using the inquiry method to teach math. We were all sure that she had beaten the cancer, and that her ordeal was over.

But this disease known as cancer is often not so easily beaten. It came back years later, and this time her doctors employed some very high dose therapy that gave her more very full years of life. It was only recently that we learned that the treatment that had saved her life had caused harm to other systems in her body. She had fought her way back so many times that we all just assumed that she would do so again. Indeed, I remember her working on accreditation reports even as she prepared to go to battle once again. Even in what must have been very frightening times, she was always available to give me advice on options for my daughter’s educational journey. The campus held its breath waiting for good news on her recovery. Instead, however, on Wednesday afternoon, we got news that she had died. Walking around this normally upbeat campus, one finds only sad and defeated faces. It is even dark and raining outside my office.

I suspect, however, that Ginny would not want us to be defeated. She lived her life legitimately, helping our students grow into the people that they saw themselves becoming, and there are many of our graduates who looked to her as their mentor and friend. They, in turn, influence their own students, who are better able to go on to live their own lives fully and faithfully. Thank you, Ginny, for a life well lived. You taught some people, who now teach some people, and so on, and so on, and so on. You were the kind of teacher I hope to be someday.


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