A Nudge in the Right Direction (SOL)

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.

10 thoughts on “A Nudge in the Right Direction (SOL)

  1. “As a teacher now, I realize she likely stretched the truth.” Maybe she didn’t. I’m Team Optimism and am choosing to believe that. The small nudge moment is one of my favorite things about teaching. I love seeing that expression change on my student’s face from I’m not sure about this to OH MY GOSH EVERYONE IS LISTENING TO ME?! is amazing.

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    • Thank you! I hope so too! As a teacher sometimes I get wrapped up in “keeping up with the curriculum” or stressing a lot about content and assessments (important I know) But I think sometimes its good to realize, “maybe I can’t teach everything to every student but I can be nice and a positive force and presence in their lives.”

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  2. Oh my goodness, I love this story and the living proof of small nudges that help learning; you had me hooked me from the opening line – “small moments” are so much more valuable than we realize. It’s a reason to continually nudge with the greatest of compassion. Thank you for sharing your story.

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  3. Jonathan, this is such a cool slice to read. So much of it resonates with me. I, too, was in the military, and I was about 7 or 8 years before retirement when I faced the question, “What do I want to do next?” A number of events pointed me toward teaching, and I’ve never looked back. One of the greatest things a teacher can do is help others see the foundational elements of their questions, and It sounds like you’re doing that with your nudges. Thanks for sharing this!

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    • Nice, I knew you were cool for some reason! Hah! I served in the army for five years. I joined right after high school, so leaving after five was a rough transition. And yea, I’m liking the teaching thing. It took a while to figure out but definitely the right call.

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  4. What a cool story, Jonathan! I love the word “nudge” in this context. What an excellent teacher model you had; your own reflection on this moment is certain to make you an even better and effective teacher for your students.

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