When I was taking my Master’s classes, there was a lot of research about, well, research. Quantitative. Qualitative. Triangulation Mixed Method Design. Action Research. And although I’d sometimes get lost in the statistical and mathematical aspects of it, not all research is just about numbers, as we also learned about the importance of story in indigenous methodologies.
This past week, after reading a tweet thread by one of my favorite authors, I was thinking about how we often try to quantify other aspects of our life. Here is it below:
“There are whole industries dependent on our anxieties – over ageing, over weight, over our lack of status, over money, over relationships. Every year there are new things to worry about. Should I eat more protein? Have I done enough steps on my app? It’s relentless.
“From school we are placed in a data machine. A grade machine. And then our life becomes numerate. How much money we earn. How many followers we have. How old we are. How many steps we’ve done. How many calories we’ve consumed. A sad mathematical life.
“By constantly being encouraged to quantify our worth, we devalue it. We are infinite. Life is infinite. The miracle of witnessing it is immeasurable. We are all enough.” @matthaig1
There are so many immeasurables this past holiday week when we traveled to Calgary to visit our daughter. Things we could count: How many kilometers it was. How many hours it took to drive. How many days we spent. And I’ll definitely have a quantifiable amount on my credit card next month!
But, just like the Mastercard commercial says, some things are priceless. I can’t put a number on how many laughs we had, or the ridiculous silly banter between siblings. There’s no measurement scale to tell when the older sister has had enough of her brother bumping into her on purpose while shopping. (But it’s a higher amount than I would have had patience for!)
When we went skiing in Banff for a day, the temperature was measurable, and the windchill too! But how can you calculate the absolute stunning beauty of a sunny day in the mountains, the luminous blue of the sky, and the adrenaline rush of finishing a run that was probably a bit outside of your skill (and comfort) level?
We also took in two Calgary Flames games. There’s a lot to be measured there! Seat and row numbers, goals and penalty minutes, and the number of really annoying people who talk very loudly like they were in their living room watching the game on tv. (Two. In both games!) Not quantifiable? The collective gasps and cheers from the crowd, the home team coming away with two wins, and the cool ‘just being there in person’ feeling.
Annnnnd then there’s leaving. Inevitably, tears. The pep-talk that it’s not that long until Easter break. Mom being strong on the outside for everyone else, but my heart breaking on the inside. And the sudden realization that the next time I’m driving away from Calgary, in late August, I’ll be leaving both my kids behind there.
You can’t measure that.
When I did ELA interviews with my grade 7s in January, they brought a portfolio of evidence for different learning objectives. When I’d ask them how they felt about each piece, a common (and unexpected) response was, “Well, I worked really hard on it.” Hmmm. Okay. What specifically do you like most about it? “I put lots of effort into it. It took me a long time.” Alright. I need to ask better questions! And we did get there, talking about the complexity of their piece, or the word choice or main idea. But it did strike me at the time how it’s really hard for kids to separate quantifiable aspects from other non-measurable ones like time, effort, and emotion. And I do mean non-measurable…it’s really irrelevant to the final piece how long you’ve worked on it. Does it sometimes correlate? Sure. But there have been blog posts I whipped off in no time and others that I’ve agonized for hours writing, and I doubt that the reader could sort which was which. Same goes for effort. And I would never EVER give a mark on the heart and soul that a student poured into their piece. Not unless I wanted them to never write from their heart again.
Positive comments for growth. No exceptions.
I stumbled across some feedback that I had gotten at the end of Grade 10 ELA. I really wish my old teacher was on Twitter to give him a shoutout. (He isn’t. I’ve checked!) But here’s what he wrote as a final comment for my journal collection of 20 writing pieces.
Edla: Never, well almost, would I have believed in awarding a perfect score for journals – even if there was paraphernalia included. But, here it is – never! Lots of possibilities, here, if you want to risk, share, take abuse, and maybe glow! Enjoy your summer holidays! 12:15am. E.C.
So there’s a couple of things that make me laugh. I love that he used the word paraphernalia and I have ABSOLUTELY no idea what that was about! I wonder what the heck I attached to my journals, although I can assure you that it’s not the paraphernalia that the word itself conjures up. I also love that he made a point of telling me what time he finished marking. Lol. Some things just don’t change over time for teachers! Yah, it focused on what mark I got and in those days I was OBSESSED with getting good marks.
But mostly, I love the confidence he gave me as a writer, and how he was honest about what happens when you share your writing…and these were pre-internet and pre-Twitter days. He would have had no idea what kind of risk that is and how much abuse is out there now. He also wouldn’t have had any idea how much his feedback always meant to me, and how influential my memories of him as a teacher continue to be.
As we head into another week of freezing weather, let’s try not to live a ‘sad mathematical life’ focusing on the ridiculous windchill numbers, but remember that, “We are infinite. Life is infinite. The miracle of witnessing it is immeasurable. We are all enough.”
P.S. If anyone knows Mr. Ed Chow who is now a Vice-Principal at LA Matheson School in Surrey, British Columbia, wish him a (belated) Happy Teacher Appreciation Week from an old (very old) student!
Tawâw. Tervetuloa. Everyone is welcome.
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