OK, so I’m not really doing the full blog challenge – This weekend was nutso and blogging everyday is really tough – enough with the excuses. But this question, “Who was or is your most inspirational colleague and why?” just really struck me at my core. There have been so many, probably for all of us in education, it would be extremely difficult to pinpoint just one who was MOST inspirational. I continue to be inspired rather regularly by my past professor (now friend) Carol Rodgers (SUNY) who is just one of the most amazing writers, Dewey Scholars and researchers and reflective practice I have ever met. She is an amazing teacher mentor and has taught me a great deal. Ron Lancaster (OISE – Toronto) continues to show me how to be a true teacher of teachers every time I see him. Nils Ahbel (Deerfield) and Maria Hernandez (NCSSM) and two of the most passionate mathematics educators I have ever met and every time I speak with them about my practice, I learn something new – period. If you all ever get a chance to hear any of them speak, I highly recommend it.
I’ve already written about my inspiration and admiration for Rick Parris and the amazing life he led as a an educator, so I won’t go into that again, but I do feel that if I had to name someone who was not only inspiring, a major role model, caring, patient and kind, and truly changed my life, it would have to be Anja Greer. If there is anyone to whom I have to attribute my work and lifelong love of teaching mathematics with problem-based learning, it would be Anja, mostly because I would not have had the opportunities and the courage to have taken the risks and to work with people who intimidated the heck out of me when I was only 26 years old. She was a woman at school that had a very male-dominated history and she always spoke up for the students that were underserved and underrepresented. She gave of herself in every way and gave me a job opportunity in 1996 that changed my life.
In the classroom, she was a teacher, mentor, innovator and amazing administrator. To watch her handle a room full of very opinionated and argumentative mathematics faculty was amazing – never losing her grace and determination. She took her time finding the words that she wanted to say and to this day, when I feel that I am pressured to quickly say something I think of her, take a breath, and rethink my words in my head.
The day I met Anja she frankly explained that she had to put a wig on in order to take me to campus because the students hadn’t seen her with her hair so short. You see, she was battling cancer at the time that she was serving as department chair, implementing a new curriculum and hiring 4 new teachers that year. The courage she had to “put on that wig” and move through her days for the next few years inspired me so much. My son was born the year she lost her battle to cancer and she still had the compassion to let me know how happy she was for me that January.
I am so grateful for Anja’s influence on my life and I continue, in her memory, to teach annually at the conference that was named for her. If I can even remotely come close to influencing another teacher in the way she has for me, I will have just started to repay her.