Tim Morris on Conquering Algebra and Ancient Civilizations

Noodle Expert Tim Morris discusses conquering his algebra class and what we can learn from ancient civilizations.

Noodle Expert Tim Morris discusses conquering his algebra class and what we can learn from ancient civilizations.

Who would you pick, alive or dead, to be your teacher for a year? What would you want to learn?

I would love to have the opportunity to be taught by Vince Lombardi. As a coach, I appreciate how so many of the lessons he taught his players focused on doing your best, the price of victory, and the importance of practice and training; but as a counselor, I appreciate how so many of these lessons were not limited to the an athletic field, but encourage all of us do give a great effort toward anything that we find to be worthy of our time. His words encouraged us to strive, to be of good character, and to work hard but remain humble.

I've always felt that the best teachers, those who have the ability to make a real impact on their students, are teachers who are not only well-versed in their subject matter, but who have the ability to take those lessons and have the student find a real-world application for them. A great teacher will inspire a student who struggles with the class material to set realistic goals and to feel accomplished when those goals are met, but also to walk away with a better understanding that struggles are okay and the character built throughout the struggle is just as important as the mastery of the material that was being taught.

What is one small piece of advice that has had a big impact on your life?

One piece of advice that has had an impact on so many parts of my life is very simple, yet many take a long time to fully grasp and appreciate it: It's OK to fail. When I was young, failure meant just that — you attempted something and did not succeed. I had tunnel-vision and focused only on the negative aspects of what had occurred. Only as I continued to have these experiences did I begin to learn from those failures. I began to recognize the value in failing and continued to build resilience. I realized that it's OK to be fallible, that no one expects anyone to be perfect all of the time. "It's OK to fail" is the advice that I've been able to apply in almost everything that I do, with one small exception: it's OK to fail, so long as I can walk away, take a step back, and tell myself that I gave it my all and did the best that I could have done.

Where would you send a student who hasn't traveled before?

I would encourage a student to visit some part of the ancient world. I think we take our current society for granted, and don't often enough appreciate the different civilizations and cultures that came before us. Their understanding of our world was vastly different than what we know today, but there are still many innovations and ideas that were born out of places like ancient Greece, Rome, and Egypt. Visiting those sites not only allows us to appreciate the differences but really helps us gain perspective on our place in the world and the contributions we make, both individually and as a society.

Looking into our past also helps to appreciate how future generations may view us. With that in mind, it may just help us appreciate the decisions we make each day and consciously lead more productive lives. Taking a trip to the ancient world and walking the same streets that so many have walked over thousands of years can go a long way in helping us to gain that perspective.

When was a time that you failed academically, and what did you learn from the experience?

When I was in eighth grade, I earned a zero on my first ever algebra test. My friends, of course, thought it was hilarious, but I knew exactly what had gone wrong. I had no idea what algebra was. The concept of letters as numbers did not resonate with me, and when that's your level of understanding, a grade of a zero is pretty much imminent. The experience taught me that failure is a part of life, but more important, that it's OK to ask for help. You can't always do everything on your own, and admitting that you're in over your head is not an admission that you can't do something, rather it's a sign of good character and a willingness to embrace help from others. I reached out to my teachers, learned the basic concepts of algebra, then ended up turning into quite a math student as I worked my way through my high school math courses.

Why did you go into your field, and how is it different from what you expected?

I decided to be a school counselor while I was working a 9–5 office job as an inside sales representative. I had a degree in psychology and no experience in education, but I wanted to do something that made me feel I was making a difference. As a school counselor, I get to do just that, though admittedly, not always as often as I'd would like.

One aspect of my job that differs from my original expectation, that tends to frustrate me, is the fact that the students that are really in the most need of someone like me — someone to listen to them, to give them advice, to help them navigate their academic, social, and familial experiences — are the ones that can't get out of my office fast enough once they're there. They're not the ones who seek me out, which is OK; but when we do meet, these are the students that tend to actively avoid talking, opening up, and simply won't let me help them. When I do end up having success with a student like this, however, the accomplishment feels just that much more satisfying.

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