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March 16, 2020


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Definitely true about teachers. For symmetry, I feel the need to add that the bad ones also have long-lasting effects.

[Pauses to consider a long litany of names and faces and voices, declines to name them.]

I don't think I ever had a really inspiring and amazing math teacher, although I had some *competent* ones that now stand out in my memory simply because they got the job done with little fuss. It was my high school chemistry teacher, and a biology teacher whose class I didn't take, who bent me on the path towards science and engineering from sheer excitement for it. There were a few really good professors in my chemical engineering undergraduate department, whom I remember with some fondness; it was a fairly small department, and they knew us by name. I should probably mention my late PhD thesis advisor, from whom I learned quite a lot, but like all of his students I have a complicated emotional relationship with my memories of him, so I'll just leave that there.

I think these days, as I am home with kids, the teacher whose influence affects my life most deeply in a positive way is my high school French teacher, who was of the no-fuss type, dryly humorous, and almost scarily competent. I thought of her a lot as I worked on learning other languages by myself years later, and ultimately that gave me a ton of confidence to self-teach other things.

I got to have a lovely reprisal with my 7th grade math teacher, who turned into my math team coach for grades 7-12. This was the teacher I TAed for, whose room I sat in during lunch. He was a huge part of my middle and high school years.

Two years ago, I found out he was teaching the geometry component of the accelerated math program at the U of MN that my oldest son attends. In what turned out to be his last year before retiring and moving out of state, he taught my son. That also meant that I had heads up on his retirement and another math team alum and I arranged to bring back team members from the past 25 years together to surprise him at his last meet. We had people flying in for this and now we're all in contact again. I can't be more grateful for all he did for me.

It's amazing what turns out to be most important, and how often we don't see it at the time.
One of my deepest regrets is not having contacted one of the teachers that made such a big difference to me to thank her properly before she died.

A German professor of all things, though I don't speak German now. But she taught me such a lot about confidence and intellectual self knowledge.

And that's a great full circle story with UMTYMP, Amy.

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