A year ago today a great teacher passed away. Mr. Wiatt was a self proclaimed simple man. He was a teacher and a farmer, yet he meant so much more to those who knew him. He taught me to understand and appreciate mathematics, the subject I now teach and love.
I was able to send him the below letter for his birthday last year. He received it a few weeks before his passing. I am so thankful that I was able to express my gratitude for all he had done for me. I was not able to attend his funeral because I was living in Finland at the time, but the family read the below letter at his services. I wanted to share it with you today as I remember a great man and teacher.
My Dear Mr. Wiatt,
I am sorry I cannot be here with your family and loved ones today as we celebrate you and the great man, father, teacher and friend you were in our lives. However, I want you to know what a difference you have made in my life.
I am a math teacher and I cannot imagine doing anything else. Like you, teaching math is my life’s calling and I find so much joy and contentment from it. And I owe it all to you and your skillful example and kind instruction. I would not have had the courage or the ability to pursue a math degree without first being your student.
You made a profound impact on me in school. You were able to explain math in a way that just made sense. Your teaching was so simple, so logical and without frill. You were able to cut to the chase and simply teach. I gained so much confidence from taking your courses.
You are a foundation of Southmont High School. A legacy. A legend. You were everyone’s favorite teacher. My parents loved you, my brother and friends loved you, and I loved you. And while, you sent many of us to the Hallway for various reasons (I think you sent me once for apologizing too much….I’m still sorry about that by the way.) you did it with love and often a trace of a smile.
Your stories and ironic wit made us all laugh and enjoy your math classroom. I, like so many others throughout the years, looked forward to math everyday. I thrived in your class and began to see that I could be successful in math. With that confidence came the realization that I wanted to become a math teacher just like you.
And I did. You, not my university education, taught me how to teach and love math. I truly mean that. Those fancy education courses didn’t teach me a thing about actually teaching math- you did. Everything I know about good solid math instruction came from you. I use your crazy sayings and explanations with my students every single day I teach.
Like you, my teaching is simple, logical and to the point and I also color it with funny stories and silly sayings that add life and fun to the classroom. I know now, just as you knew then, these silly sayings are not just for show. It allows us to really remember the special tricks along the way. I still can’t subtract a negative integer without thinking “Bam Bam”. I also always think “plus a blank-a, plus a blank-a” when I am trying to complete a square. And NO ONE will ever be able to add two unlike terms together because you simply cannot add Pumpkin Pies to Pumpkin Rolls! And the list of Wiatt-isms goes on and on.
What I am trying to say, your teaching legacy continues. You are teaching a whole new generation of students through me, and several others who have followed in your footsteps of becoming math teachers.
But your legacy continues and reaches beyond the math classroom. Your teaching legacy continues in the hundreds of engineers, doctors, nurses, businesspersons, electricians, farmers, accountants, construction managers, lawyers and other professionals you taught in your 40+ years of teaching.
Our collective success is due, in part, to the math and life lessons we learned in your classroom. You knew math education isn’t about the math. It is about teaching students to use their brains. That is what you trained us to do, and for that we are forever grateful.
You always talked about being just a simple farmer. And you were just a farmer, but not in the traditional sense. What you planted in all of us was far more valuable than the corn and beans you planted in the ground.
We, your students who love and cherish you, are your crop. We, the students of Southmont High School, are your harvest. We are your life’s work and we are so thankful for your years of dedication, love, kindness, wit, humor and service.
Southmont would not have been the same without a Mr. Wiatt. Our lives would not have been the same without you. I love you Mr. Wiatt, and I am so thankful for you and what you have meant to my life.
Kelly , Your faithful math student.