One Good Thing:  Learning Life from Calculus

By Shlomo Maital

     Rebecca Peterson

Rebecca Peterson was named Teacher of the Year in the US.   She is a high school math teacher from Tulsa, Oklahoma,  and is an immigrant with a Swedish mother and in Iranian father.   She says her Iranian name means bearer of good news, and she embraces it.

       She has a powerful message for us all.  It’s called One Good Thing.  Here are her own words, as told to the NPR program Here & Now:

     “May we walk this life together. With open hearts and open hands…   In the end maybe we’re all.  of us just walking each other home.”  

       “I teach in a very diverse, culturally rich district. We have 62 languages represented in the Union Public Schools.  …I was on the brink of of leaving, honestly, in the middle of my first year. Really didn’t think I’d come back after my first year  ….then I found this community blog called One Good Thing, and it was a collective of educators from all over the country that committed to writing good things that happened in their classroom.   And they live by this mantra that every day may not be good but there’s one good thing in every day. And that quote just hit me hard, right? Because I didn’t ignore the demands of my job. But it did insist on taking ownership of my day. And so I started writing.

     “One day I just opened that blog platform and wrote one good thing that happened that day. The next day I did the same. The next night did the same. And after a decade —  Writing good things on my last day of school last year was my 1,400th  post.    

     “One post that really stands out is this. It was right before the pandemic actually, and a student came up to me and said I don’t have a lot of money but it’s Teacher Appreciation Week and I wanted to give you something and he had asked me earlier what my favorite song was and he pulled out a Viola from.  He had learned how to play ”For good from wicked” * for me, and he had, like many of my students, had undergone a lot of trauma and a lot of tragedy. He had lost his mum a few years before that.

    “Then when he concluded, he said I’m gonna get choked up. Thank you for being a mother figure in my life. And so moments like that, we have to hang on to as educators.  

        Calculus as a Life Lesson: Rebecca continues:    “As you know, calculus has two branches. Differential and integral.  I feel like calculus has a lot to teach us beyond mathematics.

     “Differential calculus teaches us that things change the slowest at extrema. Similarly, in life, our highs and lows often seemed to move at a totally different place than the rest of our everyday rhythms.

     “Then in integral calculus we use infinitesimally small pieces, small rectangles to calculate the whole. Inch by inch we get closer to the full picture, but we need every little slice to understand the grand view.

       “In life, sometimes it feels like we’re moving at a snail’s pace along the X axis, of course, but never forget that each little slice is needed to form the whole picture. Or progressing towards our calling infinitesimal inch by infinitesimal inch. Remember — this in your season of waiting. We are still moving forward as slowly as it feels sometimes.”

         Let’s try what Teacher of the Year Rebecca does daily.  Write One Good Thing.  In your head, or on paper; on a blog or in a diary.  One good thing.  After a year – 365 good things.  Maybe this is a powerful anti-depressant?

         Thanks Teacher of the Year, for the math lesson, that becomes a life lesson.

*  the last words of the song:  “And because I knew you, Because I knew you, Because I knew you, I have been changed, For good”.