I’ve grown obsessive over many topics over the years: the rope swing on the playground, the “Pure Imagination” scene from the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory film, Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy, minesweeper, knitting… But more than anything else, and throughout it all, there’s always been one topic I cared about more than anything else.
I spoke about Mathematics with my father when I was young with the sort of ravenous enthusiasm I imagine most children speak about how they did at the last game with their team. When I was four, I demanded long division problems instead of a bedtime story each night, and by Kindergarten had learned to speak with some fluency on the topic of fractals and fractional dimension… just not how to do so in a way that would interest my peers.
My precocious passion for math was not always a boon in the classroom; while my 3rd and 7th grade math teachers saw this affinity as something to be fostered and treasured, more often than not my asking questions far beyond the scope of the curriculum not as a cry for challenge problems but instead a challenge to them. Luckily, I did not pick up on the depth of animosity from these educators until much later.
Loving math has meant I’ve spent so much time thinking about every angle and nuance of a concept, and with four years of college majoring and then another four of grad school focusing in on its most abstract foundations, I am much better at catching the perspective that will help connect the dots for a given individual than back when I was trying to enthuse about logarithmic self-similarity to peers on the swing set.
I am a math teacher now, and get to talk about what I love and spread this passion every day. I do not always do a perfect job – and while no one does, in those moments it’s easy for me to beat myself up for it and feel like, with a communication disorder, I never will – but my students and their parents consistently say that my energy and joy for the subject is a huge draw, my enthusiasm infectious in every course. I’ve taught students from ages 13 up to mid-20s (some older than I was at the start, there), and it still astounds me that I can get paid to do what I love and to get others to do it too.