This Man

I teach reading for a reason.

Buildings would crumble, worlds would collide, universes would implode were I to be responsible for the teaching of math to this nation’s youth. . .ever. I DID teach math ONE year–my first year–it was a self-contained classroom where I HAD to teach everything. Thankfully I don’t remember much of that year. I was young, and in love, and just trying to make it through until I could leave Abilene and move to Houston and marry Tony. I survived, but I still worry about my class of 4th graders–who are now 25 and 26 years old.

That being said, there were two people who tried and tried and tried to teach me ciphering. One of them was Sarah. She is the daughter of a college math professor and has a penchant for the subject. She also loved me and felt sorry for me all of those years I slogged my way through arithmetic. The OTHER person who tried to teach me math was This Man.

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His name is Tony Timms. I write it wrecklessly here on the internet, because were you to Google his name, you would find it in all sorts of publications and places having to do with the Education Agency of Arkansas. He works for them. Teaching math. His name is no stranger to internet searches. He’s an excellent math teacher. . .one of the best. It’s not his fault that I can’t do math to save my soul. He did his best when he taught me, but it didn’t take. (For clarification, the top picture is Sarah, Timms, and me the night of high school graduation, the second is Sarah, Timms, and me the night of our 10 year reunion. I do not like picture one of myself ’cause my lips were all squishy. I was laughing. Sarah does not like picture two of HERSELF because her belly is all pregnant with a Riley in there.)

Tony Timms taught Algebra, Geometry, Algebra II and a host of other math classes I can’t remember nor ever darkened the door of. He also coached various sports teams and raised his children and put up with us during his tenure at O.C.S. He was one of my favorite teachers. He, along with his wife Katrina, is one of my favorite people. Sarah and I babysat their oldest three children. Katrina and I had babies (their fourth, my first) within a month and a half of each other. My sophomore year in college, they moved to Searcy. I was the happiest girl alive. . .Tony and Katrina and the kids all there with me!!!!! They are still there. I keep up with Katrina and have seen her on all of my trips to Searcy–Timms is normally travelling with his job. This trip, I got to see Timms too.

I have lots of Timms stories, but my favorite that I’ve told to lots of other people, I’d never told him until now.

My junior year in high school, I took Algebra II. It was required. I had to have it to graduate. Having suffered through Algebra (terrifying) and Geometry (“supposedly” easier than Algebra), I faced my final math class of high school armed with Sarah and Timms–my last bastions of salvation before a Raging Sea of Computation. One night during the spring my mother walked by my bedroom to see me weeping. . .tears dripping onto the pages of my text book. My own math teaching mother even told me to just go to sleep.

I had a big senior year planned. . .chorus, yearbook editor, drama productions, etc. Failing Algebra II was not an option. The day of the Algebra II final, I knew I had to make a 79 to pass for the year. You DON’T have to do the math to know I had a deplorable average to need a score that high to get out of the class.

I don’t remember much about the actual test, but THIS I remember as clear as day.

I remember standing behind Timms while he sat at his desk. It was over in the right hand corner of the room under the windows. I remember tears silently rolling down my cheeks as the x’s and points off began coming more and more frequently. Then I remember him marking the x that gave me a 79. There were two or three more pages left to grade. He closed my test, wrote a 79 at the top, circled it then turned to me and said,

“Fifty years from now it will not matter what you made on this test. You know enough math to balance your checkbook and be a good elementary school teacher. You have common sense. You’re gonna be fine. Have a good senior year.”

Tony Timms was not a man to just hand out grades. He didn’t cut us much slack in our classes or in our lives. He had and still does have a very developed sense of what is right and what is wrong. His opinions and attitudes and personality are not merely strong, they are concrete. He is not a perfect man, and he will be the very first to admit it, but he taught me, as well as a host of others, a lot of things that made an indelible mark on our lives.

That being said, he was wrong about that test. He said that 50 years from now it wouldn’t matter what grade I made, but he was very, very mistaken.

He was wrong, because I have never forgotten that. I have never forgotten that he knew me well enough to know I’d done all I could do. I have never forgotten that he loved me enough to give me the benefit of the doubt. I have never forgotten that he saw past one high school Algebra II class in a teeny-tiny school to the broad future laid before me. I have never forgotten that he gave me credit for being able to make it on sheer common sense rather than book sense. I have never forgotten his compassion and his wisdom. I remember it over and over as I teach my students–the ones who are successful and the ones who aren’t. I remember it on the days when what I’m teaching falls flat and we all just need to take a break. I remember it when I know a student has worked hard and done their best and still can’t make that 70 to pass, but I give it to them anyway. I remember it when I begin to make mountains out of molehills. . .”Will it matter 50 years from now? No? Let it go, Roxanne.” I remember it when I think of people and events that have shaped my world–the way I teach–the way I live.

When I told Timms that story he laughed, then he said, “Good for me.” I thanked him for the 79, and the said, “I didn’t give you that grade. Whatever I wrote on that test, you earned.”

I have this poster in my classroom. This year it was attached to my white board with magnets so the kids could read it. You’ll notice it gives a shorter time frame for when things will and won’t matter. Timms could have coined this poster and made a mint!

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I learned the lessons he taught me, and I still use them to this very day.

Fifty years from now I will still remember that grade. I will still remember this story. I will still remember This Man.

Love ya, Timms.

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5 thoughts on “This Man

  1. Well, this is what teaching is all about. It is about the whole person first, the subject second. Not that there aren’t objective standards, of course, but teaching is not black and white. Good teachers are both leaders and servants. They are confident and yet humble. They are objective and fair and yet compassionate. They are not students’ friends in the peer sort of way, and yet they must be approachable. If they get it right, they touch students the way he touched your life. And in the younger pic, he looks just like Jim on The Office, which is a plus. Ha. Great post!

  2. He is the reason you are the kind of teacher you are today!

    I failed Algebra 2. My teacher said I was lazy and she would not even help me after school. I guess she had to teach me some other kind of lesson.

    I took it again my senior year with another teacher and passed.

    OH, and I balance the checkbook just fine. ;>)

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