Mimi Geier, a great math teacher

MimiGeierThe world lost a great math teacher this week. Mimi Geier not only loved math, she loved teaching math and delighted in watching kids discover solutions. If I had a picture to share here, it would be of Ms. Geier with a grin on her face, holding out a piece of chalk so that a student could teach.

My first day at BFIS, Ms. Geier asked me if I was in first or seventh period math. I wanted to ask which one was the advanced math class, but I didn’t. Instead I said I didn’t know. She told me to come to both and we’d figure it out.

I got worried during the first math class. I could solve any quadratic equation in the world with the quadratic formula but Ms. Geier didn’t think too much of that method. She wanted us to factor, to pull the problem apart and understand the pieces that solved it.

Walking up the stairs after lunch, a girl who later became my friend told me, “You don’t want to be in the seventh period math class.” So it was with trepidation that I entered seventh period. Is this where they sent the kids that had never learned to factor? To my surprise I found a much different class. It was a small classroom of relaxed students and a very different Ms. Geier. This was not the homeroom teacher Ms. Geier. This was not the Ms. Geier who could take forever to make a simple point. This was not the Ms. Geier who was always misplacing that paper that she’d just had. This Ms. Geier grinned a lot. She loved it when we came up with a hard problem. She delighted in solving problems with us. She was thrilled when we figured it out. Ecstatic when we could teach each other. This was Ms. Geier the math teacher. I got to stay in seventh period, advanced math.

One day, we were all having trouble with some calculus. We could solve all the problems but we were struggling with the why. We got the formulas but not how they worked. The next day, a kid in my class whose dad was an engineer at IBM came in and said, “I got it! My dad explained it to me.” Ms. Geier, who had probably spent hours figuring out how to teach it to us, just grinned, held out the chalk and said “Show us!”

Several years after that first day of school, Ms. Geier was out of town for a few weeks. Her substitute pulled me aside during break. Sitting at Ms. Geier’s desk, he asked me for help with a math problem and said Ms. Geier had told him that if he had any problems with the math, he should ask me. Me, the kid who was afraid to ask which class was advanced, now trusted to help the math teacher!

Unknown to me, Ms. Geier also intervened on our behalf in other areas. We were having trouble with our science teacher. Several of us were banned from asking questions. One of my classmates was banned from asking questions because her questions were too stupid (she’s now a food scientist) and I was banned because my questions were too ridiculous (too much science fiction?). In all fairness, she did explore my ridiculous questions outside of class, even consulting her college professor. Things eventually got better. Several years later she told me that Ms. Geier had helped her figure out how to cope with us.

Ms. Geier taught me many things. Among them were that it’s ok to love math just because it’s math, that it’s ok to be the expert and let somebody else teach you – not just ok but exciting, that it’s ok to be the expert and not know all the answers, that sometimes people learn best from peers, that solving problems together is fun, and much more. I owe a lot of who I’ve become in my career to Mimi.

I, and many generations of math students, will miss Mimi Geier.