Posted by: Kate | April 23, 2008

Still Wicked Smahht

Willem went and won another teaching award last week; it took a few days for the school to get around to posting the details, so he had to wait until today for proper blog-delivered recognition.  Last year’s award was somewhat more common (something like 5 out of 14 nominees won) but with higher compensation, this year’s is much more pretigious (2 TAs won, out of 415) but with a cute, petite, streamlined little check.  It’s OK, he’s able to take the summer off anyway, and this time to actually just be home.  Comps are done, classes are almost finished… he’ll be able to hang out with the kids, plan his Mancation, and get bored.  Good stuff.

He acted all shocked to win the award.  But reading the things people wrote about him, it’s not that surprising:

Willem is currently pursuing his PhD in Math Education and has served as a teaching assistant with his department over the past five semesters. Throughout his nomination packet, it becomes clear that he is a passionate and concerned leader in the classroom. He actively engages his students in recitation labs and encourages practical methods for problem solving over rote memory. Willem has taught a variety of classes and skillfully integrates his practical knowledge of computer hardware and software into his classes. He is enthusiastic engaging students in the classroom and demanding high-quality work from his students. One nominator says, “In my five years as a chair, I have not seen students respond so favorably to a TA as they have to Willem. He is able to get students excited about mathematics. Even if they don’t earn an A or a B, they still come out with a sense of accomplishment and pride.” Willem’s classroom strategies are effective; every one of his students passed his Finite Math course and his evaluations were nearly perfect. Another nominator remarks, “He has excelled in every environment, showing skill, devotion and energy, as well as a superb ability to communicate with students His record serves as a role model for others to follow. I expect that in five or ten years we will still say that Willem is one of the best TAs we ever had.”

So, good for him. It’s nice that people recognize how hard he’s working.  Nice for him to get some validation that he has chosen the right career.

It was a strange feeling, being at the ceremony. He didn’t know for sure that he would win, but it was a Thursday and I had the afternoon off, so Mary and I packed up the kids and headed down. We were the only non-students in the room, but the children behaved impeccably due to bribery and chocolate chip cookies. I took a few photos, and otherwise just watched.

It wasn’t that long ago that events like this had my name on the pamphlet. My desk at work holds my commemorative mug from 1999 (there’s one difference between mental health and mathematics: I get a mug, he gets $500 – seems fair, right?). And yet I’ve settled, in the past few years, into a comfortable routine in a supportive role. This isn’t my time, not to be earning a degree or winning an award or generally leading the schedule and mood of the family. My role is to hold down a job, keep the appointments straight, stay in touch with teachers and doctors and plumbers, try and impose some level of organization to the household, and deliver a reasonably coherent report to Willem at the end of the day.

It’s not a bad thing, this background operation. It’s necessary, and I don’t resent it. I don’t want the awards or degrees – not now. I did once, and I might, again, someday. But I hadn’t thought about it for a while, instead getting sucked into the chaos of a normal routine. It was nice to learn that I don’t hold any residual bitterness or resentment about my step away from the limelight.

It’ll be nicer to get through another year and start a shared bill, a co-headliner where Willem takes on full-time teaching and I get my dream house and B&B plans underway. But I can wait for that.


  1. Yeah Willem – that is awesome.

    And if he won it – he definitely deserved and earned it. I remember many a TA who totally SUCKED at their job.

  2. Congrats Willem. I admire people who understand maths and can communicate it to a classroom. i was a victim of brilliant mathematicians who simply couldn’t teach and still have to use my fingers to add things up!

  3. Congrats! What a nice honor!!

  4. Gee where was Willem when I was in college? I am so glad they have great guys like him out there helping students along…{{BAD FLASHBACKS of MY CALC TA}}
    Congratulations Willem and I hope this opens so many more doors of opportunity.

  5. Congrats to Willem, and to you for being okay with basking. It really doesn’t suck.

  6. Congratulations Willem!!!

  7. Good for him, and good for you.

  8. Nice job, Willem! A good teacher really makes all of the difference in education. I remember Willem trying to explain to me what fractiles were in college, and although I still dont know, I hold a special place in my heart for his patience with my lack of understanding.

    I will gladly come and stay at you B&B, as I think we might be stuck living here instead of the seacoast where I’d like to be. The pull of family is mighty, especially when some of them are rapidly descending into old age and we live closest to them and can best advocate for them. Bummer. But your B&B will be a lovely place to get away to!

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