Over a month ago, a colleague asked if I could chaperone a team of three students when they traveled to a nearby college to participate in a math competition. Doesn't that sound like a sweet day of work? I thought so, too, so I agreed readily.

The competition was this week. The students, two boys and one girl, had volunteered to go. We hadn't singled out the group of students we thought would win and invited them, because a math competition is self-selecting enough as it is. I met the students outside the office in the morning, made sure they had calculators, and hopped on the full-size bus with them. We stopped at our neighboring high school 20 minutes away and picked up their team and then headed off to the university about an hour away.

When we arrived and checked in, the college rep referred to me as "coach" and I sort of chuckled to myself. While I'd taught two of the three students in middle school, I certainly wasn't coaching them for this competition. In fact, they hadn't practiced together at all and only one of the three had looked at previous years' questions at all. I asked them why they had come and one said, "for the gift cards." That student had been on last year's team, which won 2nd place, and he was coming back to win another $10 gift card! Seriously! We joked around a bit while eating breakfast about how silly it was that I was called their "coach." These students are so mature that they didn't need me as a chaperone except as a technicality.

The competition began and the teachers were ushered out to a separate talk. We reconvened two hours later and I remarked to the students that they looked good because they appeared energized in spite of sitting two hours for math testing. They said they felt pretty good about the competition, except for numbers 10 and 16, handing me the paper so I could offer insight as we walked to the afternoon part of the program.

There was a little talk for students and teachers prior to lunch on probability. We then went to get lunch in the dining hall and they presented the awards. They started with the 3rd place team. Not us. Then the 2nd place team. Not us. Then the first place team. US! The kids went up to get their certificates. They called for the coach to come up, too. That was embarrassing. I didn't feel at all worthy of recognition; I hadn't even organized the trip! Then the individual awards. Third place. Not us. Second place. Not us. First place. Our senior boy! And I got to go back up for another certificate. We also were given $200 of gift certificates for NCTM materials because of the first place wins, which was amazing. The kids and I had a chuckle again about me being called "coach." We smiled for our photos with our beautiful certificates and headed back home. It was a great day!

Do your students participate in math competitions?

Mathematically yours,

Miss B

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