Words Are the Way to Freedom – Books That Influence You

“Words Are the Way to Freedom” – poet Jimmy Santiago Baca

I visited with Carol Ann LeRoi the other day. For those of you who don’t know her, she is an adjunct, and another of our “Fabulous Faculty,” who told me about the books and writing who most influenced her to become an educator.

Now I have to be honest; before I met Carol I didn’t know too many math teachers. But if I had to guess, I wouldn’t have picked poetry and a fascination with words as something she would be much interested in. I was wrong. Not only is she interested in how words and phrases juxtapose, but she likes poetry of all kinds; especially that of Robert Burns! But I digress. I better let her tell her own story.

“You don’t teach math. You teach people.” That was the response of the assistant principal at a New York high school where I taught when I was distraught over a 15 year old student who
regularly came to class high.

That day, he was not, and just before class began, he pitched a desk through a window in my classroom, one of the many things he would do to get out of classes. The next day, he was calm, pupils dilated, not altogether there. But I sat down at the desk in front of him, turned around, and we whispered about his life, his addiction, his future, his fun personality, about HIM. From that point on, he came to my class every day and actually did some of the math.

Phrases, often short, serious, comical, surreal, biting, or unique in some way, have helped shape my life ever since my fifth grade teacher made us keep a notebook of sayings and short poems. She gave us sayings twice a week, and we had to find one a week on our own. Just the other day, one of my Globe students was talking about not being sure what to do for her future. Most people say to do the best you can and do all that you can, not to limit yourself, but my response to her was, “Reach for the stars, you may get the moon. Quite a lofty reward, the moon.” Thank you, Mrs. Schaefer, my fifth grade teacher.
As a teacher, a mom, a friend, and co-worker, I wear many hats, as you do also. How do we interact with people? Respect is a great start in any relationship, any job, and any situation. Beyond that, with each person being different, how do we live? Part of a short Robert Burns poem comes to my mind,
“O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!”
Translated from early English (Robert Burns lived 1759-1796) to modern English it means,
O would some Power the gift to give us
To see ourselves as others see us!
If I can see myself the way my students see me, the way my children see me, the way my friends and co-workers see me, I can learn to be a better person, for them and for me. Sometimes that makes me step out of my comfort zone, but the luminescence of my life and the lives of those around me outshine the momentary trepidation of change. I don’t teach math. I teach people.”

What books or writing helped influence you in your choice of a profession?