I've long been an admirer of the remarkable Ada Lovelace but it wasn't until three days ago that I learned she's inspired a day of blogging about women in technology. Unfortunately the fanfic that I have been composing in my mind for the last few years is not ready for publication (maybe next year?); also, I'm having trouble simply choosing ONE woman to write about since I know so many whom I admire.
I've been really lucky, knowing such talented women who haven't taken "no" for an answer or let cultural expectations get in the way of what they wanted to do. Many of you probably know them too. But I want to write about three awesome teachers I had who aren't famous; they didn't start companies; they didn't wind up on "Most Influential" lists; but they dedicated so much of their time to teaching kids math and science.
For seventh and eighth grade my math teacher was Tina Kolpakowski. She was awesome. She was a tall, lean hippie chick, 24 years old (fresh out of grad school!) who wore tie dye and listened to the Grateful Dead. She had us call her "Tina." She made me a mix tape once because she said I needed to listen to more Bob Dylan. She also took a few of us on a field trip to see the Dead perform at the Greek Theater in Berkeley.
She was just so cool and open-minded. She put me in the "advanced" math class which was a shock to me at the time since I always thought I was "bad at math." She helped me see that I really wasn't, that math was just another way of understanding the universe. She made me understand that math could be trippy and psychedelic and exciting and that you could both be a mathematician AND still love to do Tarot card readings.
In high school I had a brilliant teacher for calculus, Dr. Munro. I never knew her first name... she was always just "Dr. Munro." She was the polar opposite of Tina in many ways -- she was Scottish, reserved, of a generation that always had their hair just so, their stockings straight, their prim blouses buttoned up. She was a hard teacher -- she once threw an eraser at a student who wasn't paying attention in class -- but she was fair. I admit that I was intimidated by her, but in a way that made me admire her more. I nearly flunked her class but she did her best to prepare me for the AP exams and I'm stunned to this day that I passed with the highest possible score. I assure you, the accomplishment is not mine to claim, but belongs to Dr. Munro's tireless efforts.
Carol Stanton was the physics teacher at my high school and I think she still is. At the time I went there she was also young -- maybe 24? -- and we were her first class. I was, at the time, a moody and reluctant who had decided that physics was not really my thing. Carol pushed us to think about physics in real-world terms and understand how theory applied to life, making us do a number of experiments that required us to build things, run around the campus and measure things, and sometimes make a mess in the lab.
I remember one time when I was just not getting a concept -- I don't remember what the problem was. She sat next to me. "Ok... what's the formula?" she asked gently but persistently. Step by step she walked me through it. I felt a bit stupid then for being so recalcitrant before. If she was so willing to extend a hand, why was I so bent on rejecting it? Little by little I unwound in her class. I won't claim to have ever been a good student in physics -- I don't think I even dared to take the AP exam -- but she did dispel the fear of the unknown, of trying something new, of attempting something even if I thought I was going to fail.
Tina, Carol, and Dr. Munro, I hope you knew how much I appreciated you, even though I did a poor job of conveying that to you at the time. Thank you!