There are moments in our lives that help shape who we are. Sometimes there are huge events and moments that propel us. But a lot of our direction comes from numerous smaller ones that nudge us towards our paths. One such moment I remember was in community college.
My first year of college was terrible. I had just left the military, and I felt so aimless in life, in my studies. I felt like I was just going through the motions, and my only aim was to get a degree in “something I could make money off of.” That was my only goal. The true depth of aimlessness and emptiness felt is difficult to recall, even harder to write about.
I remember I had to take a computer class, and a majority of the instruction was following step-by-step modules teaching us how to use Microsoft office suite apps. The instructor would often lecture; she would talk about the history of computers and talk about their current state and talk about the exciting things being developed. One day she told us a little bit about binary code. (I don’t know a lot of the technical aspects of computers, so I may be recalling some of these details incorrectly.) She explained that with 0s and 1s, the computer could be programmed to do mathematical calculations. She broke down how the computers could read input and process mathematical operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. She then said that was all they did. “All the math we developed and learned about, and computers at a base level only use addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division; why is that?” she wondered aloud, scanning the room.
I’m terrible at math. Back then I was taking a remedial math course after failing the first time around. I don’t quite remember what I said, but it was something along the lines of, “Because that’s all you need to do in math, we have shortcuts not to have to deal with massive amounts of operations, but to computers, it’s not a big deal.” And her eyes lit up! She said, “that’s exactly correct! I’ve asked that question for years, and no one else has ever answered me correctly. Good job!”
The ground shifted. I learned a lot in that course, some of which I still remember, but that moment stuck with me. After that class, I stayed back and talked to her. We talked several times after that, and I even went to her office hours to chat. Those many chats nudged me towards teaching. Thinking about her now, I wonder if indeed no one had ever answered that question correctly. Surely some mathematically inclined people thought about that question before. Surely. As a teacher now, I realize she likely stretched the truth. And I’m thankful for that. I wonder if I have questions to ask the students, small thought-provoking questions, and when a student responds with a wonderful well thought out the answer, I want to make sure to recognize their response. To publicly say, “Hey, that was awesome!” Small nudges that may perhaps push them.
I’m participating in Two Writing Teachers’ Slice of Life weekly challenge.