Posted by: Maryann McCullough | November 1, 2011

Story for November 2011


 Maryann McCullough


As the whole world was grieving the loss of Steve Jobs, I found myself doing an examination of conscience – my teacher conscience. I made a depressing observation.

 He wouldn’t have liked me as a teacher.

 For the majority of my years as a math teacher, I taught the honors math classes. Other than the facts of time and place, Steve would have been assigned to my classroom. And so I imagined him there, sitting in a desk where someone with the last name starting with “J” would have been assigned.

 I encountered an above average number of very bright students at the Phoenix prep school where I taught. While their answers were usually right on target, it was their questions that impressed me even more. Encounters with those challenging minds was a definite perk of my chosen profession.

 But I was a teacher with a lot of rules. I imposed them on the premise that an external order would result in an improved internal order. In other words, like children who are better behaved when they are dressed-up, the outside can shape the inside.

 Rules about showing the logical process required to solve an equation. Rules about the form for demonstrating the proof of a theorem. Even a rule requiring rulers.

 But the Steve Jobs of the world would surely have been rule breakers. They would certainly question the necessity for demonstrating “process” when they knew the answer intuitively. Why? My requirement for professional-looking work would likely rub them the wrong way as well. What difference does it make? I would have been the raspberry seed in their wisdom teeth.  They would likely have been the irritant in mine as well!

 It would have been such a gift to be able to truly teach each individual individually; to find the right voice for each pair of ears, the right motivation for each and every student, the insight to assign just enough problems to secure the concept in each brain. (“John, you do #1-#40. Mike, you do the odd numbers through #40. Steve, you do #39 and #40…”)

 I do look back on a career of nearly thirty years with both pleasure and pride. But as I look over my shoulder, I’m searching and studying the faces from my past and wondering if there might have been a Steve Jobs in the mix. And if so, did I open a door for him? Or, was I the one who caused him to close it?




  1. Thanks for your thoughtful essay. I suspect that good teachers, like good parents, tend to take too much credit for the failures and oversights. That is what sets true servant leaders apart from others who are less motivated by love and more by self-promotion. Having said that, your essay sounds like a very hopeful reflection on your own untapped gifts and abilities you have yet to explore.

  2. Thoughtful pondering, Maryann! You’ve made me think, once again 🙂

  3. I loved this even more the second time reading it, and your revisions made this strong, wise piece even better! Your examination of conscience made me wonder too about some of those odd-ball, rule-breaking students I had. Where are they now? And when they think of the time spent in my classroom, what comes to mind?

    • Maryann, very interesting thoughts! Thank God for the people who are able to see the potential in others who tend to color outside of the lines! So may creative types and kinesthetic learners struggle to learn in traditional ways. But don’t be too hard on yourself. If time were infinite, you would have loved to give a different assignment to each child but time was infinite and how can a person be expected to have the highest of standards 100% of the time? My guess is that in your 30 years of teaching, you touched the lives of many and that is something to be proud of.

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