This year’s speaker at 8th Grade Promotion was math teacher Melissa Bell. Below is the advice she offered to the promoting class:
Good Morning. I am truly honored and very nervous to be up here today. I talk a good game in math class, but public speaking is not a strength of mine or a comfort of mine, but here it goes …
My journey at Beaver started at the same time as all of yours …
I started working here as the Math Specialist when some of you started in 6th grade. I started teaching in the classroom again when some of you started in 7th grade. I will forever feel connected to your class because of all these “starts” that we share.
I have thought a lot about what I am going to say to you today. I reflected on my own life experiences since my braces and permed hair (yes, we used to pay to have our hair chemically curled). I have also thought about my experiences in the classroom with all of you. I have decided to share a fun fact, a short lesson and an honest hope.
Fun Fact: I love teaching math, but I do not actually like Math. I did not feel successful at math when I was in school (middle school, high school, and college). I had a math tutor all through high school – he clarified the math I did not understand in class and he desperately tried to boost my math confidence. I cried a lot about math (ask my Mom). One of my college professors told me that I was not smart enough to be a math major – this was obviously really really hard to hear, especially since I kind of believed her. In fact, I almost listened to her, but I was (am) way too stubborn and instead took her words as a challenge (although I did not tell anyone that I was taking on this challenge, just in case it didn’t work out). So maybe I became a math major for some of the wrong reasons, but my struggle with math inspired me to become a math teacher (although not right away because I did not want anything to do with math after college). Anyway, I know what it’s like to sit in a math class and feel like you are actually in a foreign language class that you have never taken before – I can relate to and understand your blank stares at me. I also know and love that glorious feeling when math actually makes sense. Sharing with you math’s cycle of confusion and triumph motivates my passion for teaching.
The path to finding YOUR passion may not be obvious and unobstructed. My advice to you is make sure you try things you don’t like… you never know how a gratifying experience may impact your plan. And please please never listen to someone who tells you you aren’t good enough, smart enough or anything enough. You are each unique, special, and full of potential – do not let anyone tell you differently. Take on challenges and be brave enough to tell people about them. Accomplishing something hard is the most rewarding feeling you will ever have. I sure wish that professor could see me here with you this morning.
A Short Lesson: Show your work, show your work show your work. I must say this hundreds of times a week. And all of you say equally as often “Why do we need to show our work if we already know the answer?” Let me try this one more time… I want you to show your work in math class because the answer is only a small part of the process and definitely not the most important part. If you can show and explain how you got an answer, you will acquire a deeper level of understanding of the math. When you show your work, it forces you to slow down and be present for the process. You will also be better able to catch your own mistakes.
Just like the answer is not the most important part of a math problem, the answer is not the the most important part of many situations you will find yourself in. Slow down, be present, and let yourself dive deep. Life is not a race to the answer. The process is essential and where all the learning happens. At the same time, the process may not be fun or easy. The process can be hard, frustrating, ugly and time consuming, but it can also be incredibly worthwhile. Two weeks ago, my daughter and a few of her friends went to a workshop based on a new book. I took a picture of the huge sign when we walked into the space. It said “Trust the Wait. Embrace the Uncertainty. Enjoy the beauty of Becoming”.
Also, don’t forget to show your work in math class.
An Honest Hope: I really really like to stay inside my comfort zone. I do not like the unsettled feeling in my stomach when I do something I am not entirely sure about or comfortable with. However, I can assure you that my most memorable and rewarding life experiences involve stepping out of my comfort zone. Here are a few …
- my tap solo in the dance recital,
- being a math major in college,
- coming back to teaching after many years away from the classroom,
- when Ms. Marsh and Ms. Hollos made me do an interview in front of the entire middle school so students could get to know me (they said all the new teachers
- would also do this, but nobody else did),
- and of course this promotion speech.
Your life is the sum (get it …) of ALL of your experiences, not just the ones you’re comfortable with. My hope for you is to step outside your comfort zone as often as you can. Taking risks, regardless of their outcome, provides growth experiences. Risks will teach you about your interests, passions, talents, strengths and weaknesses. New and challenging situations require you to be creative and flexible. Life is unpredictable and stepping out of your comfort zone builds skills, resilience, and confidence to take on any kind of circumstances you might face.
Everyone in this room is incredibly proud of all you have accomplished. We are looking forward to seeing you take on the challenges and opportunities in 9th grade and beyond. Remember to try something you don’t like, slow down and experience the process, and periodically step outside of your comfort zone. Thank you for allowing me to be your promotion speaker. I am honored to have shared the start of my Beaver journey with all of you and I of course appreciate the opportunity you gave me to step outside of my comfort zone today. Have fun, dream big, make good choices and don’t forget to do your homework.