Jeremy Côté

Bits, ink, particles, and words.

Under the Hood

It’s very, very easy for me to come up with narratives about other people. Some are based on evidence, some are based on fleeting impressions, and some (in my lesser moments) are based on conversations several degrees removed from the person in question. But if I think about it, I expect only a tiny fraction are true.

Each person has a complete internal story that I cannot see. This internal story affects the person’s actions and thoughts, but it’s not bijective: From an action, I cannot definitively go backwards to their internal state.

As I take on more roles that involve working with people, I try to remind myself of this truth. Just because a person looks bored doesn’t mean they are. Just because a person shows no signs of distress doesn’t imply anything about their internal state. Just because they are smiling, telling jokes, and bringing energy to an interaction doesn’t mean they are fine. Just because they don’t appear expressive doesn’t imply they lack a rich state of internal emotions.

When I coach or teach, I don’t get the luxury of knowing a person’s internal state. So I try to look for clues, while always remembering that I only see a sliver of a person each time I interact with them. I don’t get the whole story, and it’s not for me to fill in the blanks with assumptions that may not apply.

There’s always more going under the hood than I realize. Hypothesizing can be harmless in the best case but negative in the worse. So instead, I try to simply acknowledge that my job is to meet others where they are, not where I think they are. It’s a good less to remember.

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When it Clicks

Think of a topic you really understand. One where your understanding is so clear that you know there’s no other way it could be.

Here’s the thing: Not everyone feels the same! Many people might even be confused about it.

There’s an opportunity here for teaching, for giving others the gift of what you see and know.

I recently had such a moment while working with a student on fractions. The student liked to picture fractions as pieces of a whole object. They were then struggling with adding fractions with different denominators.

The key insight is to transform the fractions to have common denominators, and then you can add the numerators. But instead of trying to jump straight to the arithmetic, I met the student where they were. I started with their picture and showed them how transforming a fraction is the same as chopping up the pictures into a greater number of equal pieces.

Two representations of the fraction 1/4. On the left is a circle cut into four pieces, with one part shaded. On the right is a circle cut into eight pieces, with two parts shaded.

For some reason, this explanation clicked with the student. “It’s that easy?” they said in disbelief.

I couldn’t help but smile at their expression of wonder. In that moment, I think the student saw mathematics as something they could do. Something clicked in their minds, and they could see the concept clearly.

As a teacher, this was a beautiful moment. I want to stress that this explanation might not work for everyone. The work I did was simply seeing where the student was in the moment and meeting them there.

Sometimes, all it takes is a change in perspective, a shift that illuminates a corner of a concept that was previously in shadow. And then, it becomes so obvious that the person doesn’t know how they ever didn’t see it this way.

My job as an teacher is to search for these moments. To create the conditions for a person to flourish and make things click.

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Fifty Thousand

I used to be confused as to why anyone would choose to run.

For those who have come to know me since then, this probably sounds unbelievable. I’m likely near the top of their list of people they associate with the word “runner”. But running wasn’t always like that for me. In fact, I found running by luck, after my two insistent running coaches in secondary school didn’t let me off the hook and made me join the cross-country team.

Today, a bit over a decade in my journey, I crossed the mark of running fifty thousand kilometres.

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On Noticing

“Wait, stop! Freeze!” Shane shouts. I’m thinking the same thing.

Shane’s older than me by decades, but you wouldn’t know it from the enthusiasm he has for basketball. Despite being a little sick and there only being four girls who showed up for our off-season basketball clinic, Shane’s love of basketball shines through. It shows up in how he doesn’t miss an opportunity to shoot the basketball even though he’s the coach, it shows up in how he volunteers to coach year after year, and it shows up his deep knowledge of the sport.

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