Awhile back I had the chance to get to know Chris. He came to work alongside me in the afternoons of his grade nine year. It was spring. He had, bluntly, told his Physical Education teacher what he thought of him and his teaching. We finished things up through my program, working on more than PE outcomes.
I remember that spring. I remember how Chris would come sliding into class, full rant. He would pull his class notes folded in four, out from a back pocket or shirt pock, and toss them on the table and keep on rumbling. Chris wasn’t my main rumbler those afternoons. Often it was Chris, myself, and another student in his 7 year, working towards his final credit for graduation. We talked about life and we worked on building skills.
Chris’s Math teacher, Mrs. S, was patient. She would show him how to solve a problem. Then, she would allow him to work through practice questions in the comfort of our space. And, Mrs. S built him up. She focused only on Chris’s successes. And she ruthlessly celebrated these. In time, so did his ELA 9 teacher. Though Chris was still with me in the afternoons come the end of that year, he earned a perfect score on his ELA final and felt confident with his Math.
That next year, the rigor of grade ten courses for credit hit hard. Christ held tight. He transferred the skilled he learned previously and managed well enough. He had always moved through academic learning in his own way: folded pages stuffed into his pockets, arriving late, wee bit of rumble under his hood. In grade ten, those class notes were stuffed between subject dividers that served only to hold loose leaf falling from his blue zipper binder. Pages upon pages of folded notes stuffed inside and zipped shut.
For Chris, who never saw the value in showing his work, grade ten Math specifically was rough. And for Chris who had an instructor who demanded proof that learners come to the answer in a certain way, Chris showing his thinking proved a journey. I remember one afternoon, sitting beside Chris, tuck away in the sanctuary of our room, supervising a quiz. Ratio and proportion. I remember one final question had something to do with how much oil needed to be added to gas. It is a long time ago now, the first numbers were something like 2 Litres of gas and 1.5 liters of oil. I remember Chris gasping. His lived experience told him that was too much oil.
For as long as I had known Chris, he had had a job. That grade ten year, he was working more than 40 hours a week, beyond going to school, picking up shifts on the weekend, and working before school from 5-8am as well. He lived at his Mom’s second house in town, taking a cab to school. He wasn’t yet old enough to drive. Sometimes, his older brother would be in from the farm and would drive him places. He ordered take out, a lot. He had a lived understanding of money – both earning it and saving it. He had been saving for a truck. He was generous too. Often he would pop in on his way out for lunch, “Want a coffee on my way back, Saas?” He seldom missed school. If he was tired, he would tell his teachers, a warning not to push. He quit partying the start of the second term of grade ten. He was focused on work. Then, I had wondered if we would keep on beyond grade 10. I had hoped. He put in more hours combined, in school and out of school, than any person in our building. Chris was farm kid. He had been raised on farm and every chance he had, returned to there to help. He loved sharing about the hills and quadding and the prairie openness near home. And oi, did he know machines.
He knew gas and he knew oil, and he knew how to mix them.
To check his work, to the side, I set up the problem and figured out the answer. I worked through the Math. I watched Chris’s work. I watched as he pulled out his phone, opened the calculator, and said, “Ok. I have 3.75. Then divide by 2. The answer is 2.5.” He had written nothing down.
“Chris, that’s correct. Can you talk me through that again?” I was so confused how our answers matched. We arrived there quite differently. He talked me through his solution again. He said, “You divide by 2, because you have 1.5 and .5 means half, which is divide by 2….” He went on like this (I am likely not explaining this correctly… actually I know I’m not.)
I sat in awe.
I remember reading Davis’, Sumara’s, and Luce-Kapler’s work during my undergraduate years, something to the effect that 2+2 does not always equal 4 and I remember nodding emphatically, YES. YES. YES. When I was Chris’s age, no on could explain to me to value in sitting still or the value in showing my learning in Math. There are just some things.
““Mathematics” is generally used to refer to a body of knowledge – that is, a widely accepted collection of concepts and procedures that have emerged through centuries of inquiry…It involves a noticing of sameness and difference, of pattern and irregularity, of specifics and generalizations, of abstract principles and concrete objects…it is about learning.”
We sat. Nothing written down. The answer floating between us. … “You have to share this with Mrs. S.” Because Chris exceled when he knew we believed in him, I grabbed up boy and papers and off we went, climbing the stairs to the grade 9 floor. She was fantastic – “Chris, someday you are going to own your shop. And we will come. You just did Math in a way I can’t do. Ms. Saas can’t do. You are just like my husband,” and she went on. “He is so life smart. Just like you. He can fix anything and can apply those skills to Math. Just like you!”
We left. Chris was beaming. He saw himself as smart. As husband material. As successful. As able to own a shop. – imagine all that compared with where he had been the year previous?
But I wasn’t careful. I was flying too on the euphoria of gains.
We returned the Math quiz, together. That teacher commented that Chris had not set up the problems as per the outcome. We must always strive to meet the outcomes. Sure, that teacher never marked him on being late or on being absent that year. But the outcomes weighed. Heavily.
They still sit with me. Those outcomes. I wonder, though, how do we weigh those somedays?