As I sit here and take the deepest of breaths, feeling relieved that finals are over and I can focus 100% on all my other full time commitments I can say, “HECK YES, I passed my stats class,” with great pride. It was an intense eight week course that taught me more than formulas and how to use my rented priceless graphing calculator. Prior to taking statistics, math and I were enemies, math drained my soul, and I disliked most of the math teachers I had encountered, with the exception of a few that I met in college. I’ve always felt I had to work twice as hard to understand concepts and was not motivated to join any study groups. I hated doing my work and did it only to pass.
I got very emotional when I found out I passed the class and I know it was because it was so difficult for me. Many times I felt like giving up and would tell my professor I felt frustrated to like something yet not understand it fully, kind of like a bad relationship. Every time I’d go in to go over material and vent or emailed him with questions and tantrum emails, he took time to hear me out and would encourage me to keep studying, keep asking and keep showing up.
When I think back on my K-12 years of education, I only recall one other educator inspiring me in a similar way, and that was in the 8th grade. Ms. Hawkins was my history teacher and yearbook advisor. I knew she cared for us, and I still remember the feedback written on my papers, she returned them to me with thoughtful and constructive criticism. Before I was in Ms. Hawkins class, I didn’t care much about history and or any other subject. And in fact after the 8th grade I didn’t care much about school period. I just did my work because it was what I was supposed to do, I had no connection to the process. I don’t have any other great memories of teachers in my K-12 years like some of my friends do. I don’t think all my teachers were horrible, I was just a quiet student who was embarrassed to ask for help, and I went unnoticed most of the time. I am pretty sure there are plenty of students like that sitting in classrooms everyday.
Twenty four years later Castro, my stats professor gave me a new math perspective, for once I liked doing homework, and I couldn’t wait to see if I solved the problems correctly. I gave up most of my weekends to study, did homework in the car while my son had baseball practice, took my son with me to the math lab many times so that I could get tutoring and or study alongside my classmates. I worked hard, and I didn’t hate it. I didn’t dread going to a two and a half hour class, four times a week.
How or what did Castro do to shift my mindset? During the eight weeks I didn’t understand much of the content, I didn’t have the leisure to think about why I was enjoying the class although I was struggling. I didn’t have time to blog about it. Homework and studying is all I had time for. Now that I’ve had a few nights of decent sleep I have come to understand it was due to his full commitment as an educator that made me want to work hard to pass.
Castro is a strict professor. He did not bend the rules for anyone, he told us what we were in for and on day one, he encouraged everyone to stick around, show up on time daily, take good notes, do the work, study daily, form a study group, go to office hours, and ask tons of questions. His intro speech with the detailed syllabus may have intimidated students and many dropped after the first week, and by the end there was maybe 12-15 students who took the final. Those who stuck around worked our butts off.
What makes Castro different than other math professors? His lectures are what make him unique, every single day he went into class with sufficient energy to put on a show. What I mean by that is that, he took the material serious every single day, engaged every section with real life scenarios where the class was able to connect to the problems; whether they entailed college survey information, gambling, dating stats and several other relevant topics. He encouraged student participation by calling on us by name and asking us questions that he knew we were struggling with. He made each class session interesting; I can only imagine he felt drained after each class, as great educators probably do.
He also arrived to campus early enough to where you could visit his office for questions on homework prior to class. He graded our work right away and returned it practically the next day, I always knew where I stood in the class, and I LOVED THAT. I was able to go over my mistakes with him and get them corrected so I could use my work to study for tests. Aside from getting there early, teaching for 2 and ½ hours, he also stayed at the math lab a few hours a day after class helping us out and answering our questions. He replied to emails in a timely manner, even on weekends. His commitment shows how much he cares for student success.
Castro inspires students with his own personal story, I would not feel right sharing it for him so I won’t, but he genuinely believes in his students and verbalized it every chance he got. In one of our class discussions, we talked about GPAs for high school students and SAT scores, and it led into the conversation of quality education in the public sector where several students could relate to having been have cheated from a good education. We didn’t spend more than a few minutes on the conversation, but in those minutes, I know that he struck a cord for many students, and clarified to them it’s not their fault to have been cheated. My heart sank when I looked over to see their pensive faces, as most of them were in the early 20s, but at the same time I know that they also appreciated his words.
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