Math is beautiful
Leslie Molnar loves to spread the word about the importance of numerical literacy
As well as teaching mathematics at the College of the Rockies (COTR) in Cranbrook, Leslie Molnar is president of the Faculty Association and vice-president of the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators. She gives us a glimpse into a typical—or perhaps not-so-typical—day in the working life of a college instructor.
You wear three hats, so to speak, at COTR. What's a typical day like for you?
I don’t think there is such a thing as a “typical” day for me. I love all the variation in my job . . . Right now, I’m working with a group to research some of the effects of the elimination of mandatory retirement in our sector. I’m also taking the lead on a provincial Adult Basic Education (ABE) Caucus to understand the effects of the government reduction of ABE funding and see what actions we might take. And then, I might go teach a math class.
In your math instructor role, what do you find most rewarding? Most challenging?
I love teaching math! Numerical literacy is so important in our world, and math has a reputation of being difficult and not applicable to everyday life. My goal is to challenge that perception. I love it when students get excited about the concepts. The most rewarding thing is when a student, who previously thought he or she could not do math, experiences success. The challenge is to overcome their fears and help students see the connection to their lives and their learning.
So how do you get students excited about math?
Well, we have fun. And I try to show how math is useful. I tell them stories about the math or the mathematicians. And I set up learning activities where students can experience, and then build on, success. Remember how good it feels when you actually solve a problem or understand something?
Were you always "good at math" yourself, and what did you like about the subject?
Yes, lucky me, I was always an able learner when it came to math. I like the logic of how it all works together. I like the creative process involved when trying to solve a problem. I like finding patterns. I love puzzles.
What does your role as president of the COTR Faculty Association entail?
I am the spokesperson for the Faculty Association and I organize the work of the union. I chair both general and executive meetings, and I ensure there is a faculty voice on college committees. . . I advocate for faculty rights and also for the rights of students. I care about education, as all faculty do.
Describe your role with the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators (FPSE).
FPSE is a very progressive federation. It is not only concerned with bargaining and working conditions issues but also with advocacy issues. We care deeply about the underfunding of post-secondary education, about limited opportunities for rural students, about student debt and about access to education for all citizens in B.C. . . . I receive many opportunities to expand my knowledge and skills as an advocate.
Do you have a favourite quote or bit of motivational advice for your students? For your fellow instructors?
I have lots!! Here are a few:
Happiness is a decision you make every day.
Respectful disagreement is the way to get to the best solution for all parties.
Don’t be afraid to ask for things.
Most people are good, kind and reasonable given the chance.
Oh, and math is beautiful!
What is it about your work that has you excited to get out of bed in the morning?
Every day is different. I get to watch my students learn and grow and personally develop. Sometimes, I make a real difference in a person’s life. I’m very lucky.
What do you love most about living and working in the Kootenays?
I was born and raised in the Kootenays. It’s a beautiful place, the people are friendly and it only takes me seven minutes to get to work.
What do you do for fun outside of work?
I ski, snowmobile, ride a motorcycle, run, read, go to theatre events and socialize with friends and family.