Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Math Teacher's Lessons

Mr. Harold Rowe in 1980. What a stud. 

 Mr. Rowe, far right, in 1985 was the "Butner Is the Best With NHS!" Advisor. 
And, yes, that is me on the far left.

Mr. Rowe in 1980 with that famous blue leisure suit.

Recently, I was thinking about Harold Rowe. Mr. Rowe was my math teacher in high school. I mean he taught everything: algebra, geometry, algebra 2 and pre-calculus, for those who were so inclined.
Mr. Rowe was probably in his 60s when I reached Butner High School in 1981. He taught the very first class I ever took at ol' BHS: algebra. I had always been pretty good in math, but algebra was some new-fangled type of math, where letters replaced numbers and such.

Because of his wild outfits, large-frame glasses and slick-backed hair, Mr. Rowe was always a target of kids being punks. He was the butt of more than one joke. But it didn't take long for me to realize Mr. Rowe was a teacher that loved what he did.

He was a sharp dresser too. Mr. Rowe jumped off the fashion train sometime in the late 1960s or early 1970s, so his outfits were always just slightly out of date. From the gaberdine pants to the bright paisley-colored shirts with the wide collars, to the baby-blue leisure suits he wore in every picture, I could tell Mr. Rowe should have been a lady's man. Instead he was a confirmed bachelor. I'm sure at some point he fell in love with somebody and that somebody broke his heart, so he poured his life into math and his students.

One of the reasons his math students liked him so much was his penchant for dominoes. It was never moon or some other crazy game of dominoes. It was always regular dominoes, where players make points in bunches of 5's.

After all the work was done in class, Mr. Rowe would allow his students to pull out several sets of dominoes and play a simple game. At least we thought it was a simple game. What we probably didn't realize at the time was we were using the very same math Mr. Rowe was trying to teach us.
Most days, if there was need, Mr. Rowe would jump in for a hand or two. You could see those eyes of his dancing behind those large frames, always about three to four steps ahead of the rest of the human race.

"I was wondering when you were going to play that," he would say after somebody laid down the three-four domino. He always knew. I never did understood how.

While he was a lot older than the rest of us, he always seemed like a kid playing that game. He also showed he wasn't willing to go away silently when he volunteered to teach the computer programming class when the school got its first Tandy TRS-80 (Kids, those are computers your parents had before we could fit them in our pockets).

The thing about Mr. Rowe is that he really taught math like no other. With all due respect to all my other math teachers, Mr. Rowe definitely taught me more than I ever probably needed to know. I think he was a great teacher because he showed us how to do it. He would demonstrate a problem or two, ask us to help him do it and then turned us loose on the Pythagorean theorem or solving for X.
I appreciate everything he taught me about math and life.

Every week now we get together with friends of an evening with a few adult drinks and adult talk. We call this time "Therapy," because people are always bringing some situations for us to discuss and figure out the "right" thing to do.

One thing people want to know is how to do the "right" thing when it comes to raising kids. I used to think I knew the answer to those questions, but now I realize I don't. I don't think anybody does.
The way I look at it if you ain't hurting your kids, you can't mess them up too bad. You will make some mistakes along the way — I know I made more than my share — but that's okay.

The one thing we all really probably need to teach our kids is to love others and themselves and to respect everyone.

How do we do that?

The best math teachers teach math by showing you how to do it?

Maybe we need to show our kids how to do it.

I bet Mr. Rowe would have made a good parent. I still wished he would have given me one of those baby-blue leisure suits for pictures.

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