7/30/18: Monday Motivation – Fawn Nguyen

Every Monday, I will highlight one person who has motivated me to become a better educator and this week’s Monday Motivation goes out to the lovely Fawn Nguyen. I first saw Fawn in CMC South in 2017, where one of the first things she did was post a picture of Jo Boaler and her talk time (it was the same time as Fawn’s second talk) and said “I’m going to repeat this session at 1:15. *looks at the picture* Shit.” From that sentence on, I knew I was going to like her. I was engaged the entire talk and I wanted to go up and talk to her afterwards, but she already had a mob of people going, so I decided not to.

I’m looking back at my CMC South notes and here are some of the quotes I took down:

  • I’m going to have a few drinks so the 1:15 session will be more fun anyway.
  • If they could think critically, it’ll be ideal. But on most days, I’ll take any kind of thinking.
  • Reflection + Practice = Less Suck
  • How do we do this? I already have all the answers, remember?
  • Fawn: I went to the rose bowl to see my Oregon ducks lose to UCLA
    •  *someone from the audience*: Woo!
    • Fawn: Shut up.

I love her website www.visualpatterns.org. Math is the study of patterns, and I use this every semester to have students find structures in visual growth. I also loved her quote of “We are kidding ourselves when we give kids problems that only take a period.” When we think of mathematicians, problems that are worthwhile are going to take more than 50 minutes. People working on their master’s or PhD have to spend 1-5+ years on one problem, and even at the college level, there are students that would complain if it takes more than 5 minutes to solve a problem. She was also the first speaker that I witnessed talk about how hard teaching is, saying “Teaching is so hard, we don’t need people critical of us. You can have 99 parents tell you great job, but 1 parent…” This is something that I struggle with. I can have all the positive comments in the world, but would focus on that one negative comment for a very long time. I’m glad someone spoke about it, and it made me realize that someone as great as Fawn even gets bad comments. It’s unrealistic to please everyone.

It was just absolutely refreshing seeing Fawn. She is one of the only Asian math educators I know that is a prominent speaker (with one more being Francis Su). I know that some people will retort saying “I don’t see color” or “I only care about the message, not the speaker’s background” but I strongly believe it matters. When we claim that everyone is a mathematician, it is important to show that people of all backgrounds can do math and that their ideas are valued as a speaker. Apart from her background, she was the only one that regularly cussed, and I thought “Wow, she’s cool. Breaking norms of teachers not cussing.”

When I saw her blog post http://fawnnguyen.com/st-cloud-minnesota/, it resonated with me and made me love her even more, because my family escaped from Vietnam too. My family and hers both came from Saigon, both left on a boat in the late 70s, and basically came to the United States with nothing. The fact that they survived escaping is a miracle. 

Fawn, I hope you never lose sight of how far you’ve come. From escaping Vietnam as a child, to learning English, and now being known around worldwide, you are extremely special and you deserve the world. You mean a lot to me and you motivate me to be kinder, to open myself up even more, and to always show love.

You are my hero. Thank you for being you.

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