My most vivid memory, as a graduate student in the Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University, occurred during the last day of a number of visits to Whitehorse, in the Yukon Territories. Everybody there was celebrating. Me, I had a nice beer buzz going, and was enjoying some live music and, yes, happened to be wearing an old-timey prospector’s hat that I had purchased earlier in the day. Then, all of a sudden, I started crying uncontrollably. Full. On. Sobbing. I had been studying mathematics education in the Faculty of Education at SFU, in general, and Professor Rina Zazkis, specifically, to thank for that experience.

Let me explain.

I was treated as a colleague from day one at SFU — Professor Zazkis wouldn’t have had it any other way. Her approach, to nobody’s surprise, is also employed by the other world-renowned mathematics education scholars at SFU (Dr. Sen Campbell, Dr. Peter Liljedahl and Professor Nathalie Sinclair). Graduate students are hired as research assistants, teach courses both on and off campus, are intimately involved in the authorship of articles in academic conference proceedings and journals and, when possible, accompany the math education faculty to conferences hosted all over the world. Simply put, graduate student utopia. Worthy of note, though, the positive experiences and achievements of the mathematics education program are not restricted to graduate students.

Zazkis, Campbell, Liljedahl and Sinclair also engage students, research and community on campus with, for example, the Secondary Mathematics Education M.Sc., M.Ed. and the Mathematics Education PhD, and off campus with, for example, the Curriculum and Instruction: Numeracy M.Ed., which brings us back to my most memorable moment.

From 2005 to 2007, I was extremely proud to have been involved with the Curriculum and Instruction: Numeracy M.Ed. Program that took place in Whitehorse, YT. In addition to being the site assistant for the program, I taught one of the courses (EDUC 864 Research Designs in Education) and, once the program was nearing completion, was invited by Rina and Peter to join them for the final weekend of the program.

The final weekend included a number of presentations where the math teachers confirmed, for me, without a doubt, the impact the program was making on math teachers in Whitehorse and the surrounding communities. After the presentations, there was a celebration. It was during this celebration, after the official nature of the program had subsided, I decided to see how I did when teaching my course. I asked individual after individual, to no avail. I started to get worried. Maybe I should not have been given the opportunity to teach a graduate course on research designs in mathematics education while I, myself, was a graduate student. The doubt kept creeping in, but I was going to remain stoic no matter what. 

The last few minutes of the celebration were a time for the students of the program to thank the instructors for making and taking the time to invest in the their community and in them as math teachers. It was at this point that I expected a quick passing acknowledgement. Instead, Grant Hartwick (in a style that only he could pull off) got up in front of the room and read “The Ballad of Professor Chernoff,” a poem in the style of Robert W. Service by Dale Cooper (his wife). I tried, but I just couldn’t hold the tears back, I was experiencing my most memorable moment as a graduate student in the Faculty of Education at SFU. I knew it then. I know it now. Thank you, Rina.

Egan Chernoff
PhD 2009 

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