Planting Seeds

  • Planting Seeds

    August 2023 

    I recently read the story of botanist William James Beal and it made me think of teaching and the impact we can have on our students. In 1879, Beal took seeds from different plants near East Lansing, Michigan and buried them in bottles in a secret place on the campus of Michigan State University. Every decade or so, a bottle is dug up and the seeds are planted to determine if they will sprout. Most recently, in 2021, 11 of the seeds sprouted after being planted – 142 years after they were initially buried!

    Reading this story reminded me that we may not see the impact of the relationships we build and the work we do with our students until years later. One of the things I enjoy most about being an educator is crossing paths with former students. By chance, recently, I had the chance to talk with two former students who were not exactly passionate about school. Both asked if I remembered them and reminisced about middle school; none of their memories were about mathematical content. Both talked about the support they felt from teachers, even though they acknowledged they hated school. I know many of you can share similar stories.

    The new school year has begun for some and will soon begin for others, I encourage us all to focus on building strong relationships with our students. There are so many things that demand our attention at the start of the school year, so I don’t want us to lose sight of the importance of relationship and community building. It is these relationships and the communities we create that truly matter. Learning mathematics can be a challenge for students, and having a supportive teacher who cares about students makes a significant difference. Students are often more willing to share their thinking once relationships are built, and that sharing of their thinking allows us to better plan next moves in helping students understand the concepts. A teacher who has strong relationships with students is often able to motivate them more easily than a teacher who hasn’t developed strong relationships. 

    It is through this relationship building and community creating that we can help students develop a positive mathematical identity. I want students to leave my classroom at the end of the year feeling more confident in mathematics and seeing themselves as able to continue learning mathematics. Opportunities for success increase when students have a positive mathematical identity. Thanks for all you do to help each and every one of your students learn mathematics. Like Beal’s seeds, it may not be until years later that we realize the relationships we built and the work we did truly impacted our students. Best wishes for a wonderful start to the school year!

    Kevin Dykema
    NCTM President