Algebra teacher can even fire up my teenage girl

This article was originally published in North County News.

She pushed opened the door, practically lunging toward the table as her outstretched hand met mine. Her alert, engaging eyes spoke louder than her words.

“I’m Maggie,” she declared as she scooted her chair under the table edge. “And she’s wonderful,” she exclaimed, referring to my 15-year-old daughter, Brittany, who is one of her students.

It’s back-to-school time, and parents are meeting teachers. Backpacks are stuffed, and parents are overloaded with emergency cards to complete and class requirement contracts to sign.

Fund-raiser glossies clutter kitchen counters as parents decide how much to buy from each child, keeping the haunting word “fair” blazoned on their foreheads. A new season of sports invades our calendars as we watch our kids’ free time dwindle, victims of the fall routines.

When parents meet teachers, often total strangers are connected by a common denominator of mutual wishes for one child. We both want this child to learn, to think and to be inspired to find his or her best while also learning how to deliver it.

This year, I previewed the back-to-school night classroom visits at Brittany’s school. The terrain and historical nature of the school, Maryvale Preparatory, did not accommodate my wheelchair, so the staff did. Each teacher met with me briefly, reviewed the remarks I would miss and asked if I had questions.

The teachers spoke definitively about their courses and expectations and warmly invited frequent communication. But Maggie, Ms. Sprinkle, was truly inspiring when she described her class.

She first spoke of the girls and how well they got along and seemed to enjoy each other. She spoke of their aptitudes and willingness to learn and be challenged.

Then she reviewed in detail her teaching approach, describing how she presented information and why; how she assigned homework and why; and how she prepared her students for the SAT exams and why.

Then she stopped abruptly and said, “I almost forgot. Here’s my home phone number. I want you to have it. I’ve told all the girls to call me any time, up until midnight.”

“Thank you,” I stammered. “Do you have an e-mail address?” I asked, thinking surely she would prefer a less intrusive communication.

“Yes, I do, but it’s slow and I really want the girls to call and for you to call, too, if you have any concerns,” she replied. “I don’t want them to get home late from a practice, start their homework and be stressed if they have questions. I’d rather have the call. And if we can’t work it out that night, we can take care of it the next day,” she smiled confidently, her sincerity obvious in those caring eyes.

Then I asked my project question. My pet peeve is last-minute projects, especially those assigned over long weekends or breaks. Kids need a break from deadlines and schedules, and so do I. When I asked if they had projects, she paused and replied, “Not really. But we do have a theme-oriented snack every Friday,” she admitted. “I ask the girls to bring in a snack related to the topic of the week. They really love it.”

I could see why. Actually, I could see why they really love her.

“Ms. Sprinkle is amazing,” I told Brittany afterwards. “She is one fired-up teacher. Do you like her class?”

“Yeah, we all like her. She said we could call her at home until midnight,” she reported, with the rare raised eyebrows that signal when a teen has been impressed.

“She’s got me fired-up, too, Brittany. I wish I’d had her for a teacher,” I commented.

And that’s saying something, because I hated Algebra. That part of my brain never fully developed, I’m convinced. But I think I could learn from Ms. Sprinkle.

Fact is, I think I did. She took a subject, perhaps the most mundane, dry topic of one’s high school career (I know, my opinion) and made it come to life. Her energy was contagious; her dedication, obvious; and her availability unparalleled in my experience. Her mission-driven spirit seems to permeate everything from lecture to homework to SAT prep, while playfully nurturing the creative spirit with a simple Friday snack routine.

“How about taking Pringles for the next snack,” I asked Brittany, proud of plugging into the weekly schedule with my thoughts of the chip’s elliptical shape.

“Mo-om,” she boomed back with the predictable rolled eyes that met the now-furrowed brow. “That’s geometry,” she sighed. “This is algebra – you know, equations?”

OK, so maybe I could learn even a bit more from Ms. Sprinkle. Thankfully, she has a lot to offer and the talent to teach it well.

Becky Galli is a free-lance writer and columnist who lives in Phoenix.