The young math teacher’s online footprint is an incredible celebration of life, of wit, of enthusiasm. Math geek jokes are particularly near and dear to my heart, and a week ago, she tweeted a doozy: “Parallel lines have got so much in common. It’s a shame they’ll never meet.” Now, I feel that way about her.
Readers of my blog know how much I cherish math education, and how dismal the state of math is in American schools. There is no point in comparing the tragedies that crowd into our news programs every night, but Colleen Ritzer’s death hits hard. She was murdered in her school in the small Massachusetts town of Danvers, then dragged into the woods nearby. A student is the suspect.
My father taught in the same Catholic high school for 40 years; both my brothers taught high school, and my sister taught in elementary school. An incident like this is the darkest nightmare every teacher imagines. Already, some are wondering if the murder says something larger about growing danger for teachers and the growing disrespect they face. More likely, Ritzer’s death is random, and as a math teacher, she’d probably appreciate that statistical analysis. But the raising of those questions offers its own answer, doesn’t it?
Picking through her Twitter feed is an exercise in sadness, but sometimes, it’s important to witness sad things. Ritzer’s spirit comes through so clear, so cheerful, it’s important to see it.
Her enthusiasm for teaching is obvious: she describes herself as “often too excited about the subjects I’m teaching. ”
In the past month, she said: “Big moments in geometry class this week…we have completed our first proofs! I know my former students miss those 🙂 (cue the “yay proofs”)” and “Full school week ahead. That can only mean one thing: lots of math fun :)”
She spent a lot of energy encouraging students online, and it worked. When one student said, “Got a 94 on the take home test and a 92 on the test thanks to @msritzermath #thanksforthehelp,” she responded: “Stop by anytime! Great job!! :)”
In another exchange, a nervous student writes, “Everyone who said junior year was gunna be the most stressful was 100% correct & we haven’t even been in school for a full month.”
“You can do it,” she responded.
She even tried to turn negative students positive. When one said, “This math hw sucks,” she responded, “Math is never bad.”
Her Twitter feed is also full of other normal, mundane notes that were designed to encourage a quick smile; they feel different now. “Now that the school year is in full swing, so are my weekly Target visits. #obsessed,” reads one. “Attempting to make my first apple crisp! #fall #baking” says another.
But she spent most of her online energy trying to inspire. In one post, on Oct. 5, she Tweeted a picture and wrote, “Find something good in every day.” I pray those who love her will some day be able to find good things again.