If I could talk to my teenage self, the one thing I would say is…
Don’t be afraid to take those risks to follow the dreams you have.
I’m kind of a late bloomer when it comes to adulthood. I grew up on a small farm outside a very small town in northern MN. I played outside, had daily chores, and was expected to take care of the livestock we maintained to put food on the table. Town was a 6 mile trek, and unless mom and dad happened to be going I never went. When I finally got old enough to have a bike, I joined the baseball team and rode 6 miles into town to practice each day, and then biked 6 miles back. As such, you tend to find a groove in life and allow things to play out as they should. You find peace in where you are at and don’t envision a place other than where you are.
One part of the story I am not telling you is that my father was a military man, and he met my mother while stationed in Ft Bragg, NC. Mom moved up to MN and left her family. Throughout my life I have visited that family 4 times. This is one of my biggest regrets. My mom’s family was huge compared to today’s standards. She was the oldest of seven kids. I can’t complain, my life was great as I grew up- but I knew I had family far away and wished desperately to be able to spend more time with them. As I got older I always had the option to go out to Virginia and visit, but was unable to break out of the safety net of my hometown.
As my High School career was winding down, I applied to many colleges. I wanted to get away, be apart from Mom and Dad, to no longer live by their rules (and outside their safety). I was accepted to a few great schools, but ended up going to the college close to home- 23 miles away. I still could not step outside of that family shell and explore the world on my own. I struggled with college, I was able to be in charge of myself and stayed out late- whoever decided that Mathematics Majors had to have 8AM classes was an idiot. I failed classes, mostly because I could not get out of bed no because of my mathematical skills (that is totally on me, and I accept it). My undergrad transcript looks like I shot at it with my 12 gauge. I have taken and retake classes. I lost my scholarship money because of low grades. I dropped to a 1.7GPA, I was put on probationary status- school wasn’t looking too good for me anymore. I started working to pay for college and taking classes part time. Doing this actually allowed me to progress in college, being financially responsible for my education made a difference (although the loans I was able to defer early in life have caught up with me now- when you are young you don’t think that way). I started to make progress. I ended up graduating college quite a few years later (I think it was 10) with a 3.25GPA. Would my being at another college in another state away from here changed all that? I’m not sure but I think the security of knowing Mom and Dad couldn’t drive 30 minutes to bail me out would have been a better motivator.
I got a job, I started teaching. The problem was- I was an older teacher who had a unique vision for what education should be. I knew what didn’t work for me- and that those same principles didn’t work for many of my students. I became “that” teacher next door, the one who grouped kids together, we were loud, we had discussions and explored. Even now at the juvenile center I get comments on how loud my room is- but I am OK with that. Kids are talking about math and they need to. I can now handle that, before I couldn’t. I was on my own island of instruction in my early years, I even had administrators pressuring me about my methods because they laid outside their vision. The problem was that even though I knew what I was doing was right and that my kids were learning in the best way possible for them- I didn’t know to research, provide facts and talk with administration about why their vision needed to also include mine. I was scared to keep my job, and I tried to conform.
I’m older now, and there are things I want to do, places I want to see. I am starting to branch out and take chances- I just presented for the first time at our state math conference and I really enjoyed it. I started sharing ideas, began a blog, found twitter, open middle, 3 Acts and illustrative mathematics. I finally feel like I am making a contribution to mathematics and my students- and that is what I needed. I am sorry that it has taken me so long to find this voice.
That, younger Bryan, is what you needed to find. Be strong, believe in yourself and take those chances. You are right, your beliefs will make a difference to those you share them with.