My High & Low Moments as a Teacher, All in One Day

Yesterday capped off my fourth year as a second-career high school mathematics teacher.  Unfortunately, this past year served as my most difficult, heaping unbelievable amounts of stress upon me.  Perhaps ironically, my last day mirrored the highs and lows of the year.

In the short span of less than twelve hours, I experienced the following highs and lows.

  • Immense gratification for being recognized in a local newspaper article by one of my just graduated students as having a profound impact on her preparedness for college; this student received a full scholarship to an Ivy League university as a 2015 Gates Millenium Scholar.
  • Unbelievable pettiness and chastisement from my interim principal for not turning in my classroom key on time.

Sandwiched between these two moments, and the reason I kept my key, I met with a distraught student and parents to address their concerns over the student’s final grade.  Yet, for some reason, this interim principal decided it was more important that I turn in my key than meet with the family, as he ordered me to rush to the office from my classroom a few moments before they were scheduled to arrive.

As I hastened to the office, baffled as to the short-sightedness of the administrator, I realized I left my sign-off sheet in my backpack in my car.  Entering the office, I handed the key to the school secretary, mentioning what I just realized.  The admin, standing nearby, demanded that I bring in my form first thing Monday to which I replied I could not as I was on notice for jury duty starting that day.  His retort was for me to come on Tuesday, to which I wondered at his civic knowledge and replied exasperatedly that in my four years working at the school this is the first time I was required to turn in my key, of which the admin said he was honored.  Incredulous, and not wanting to meet with this individual next week, I hurried to my car and back to the office with the sign out sheet, all the while my classroom door was left open with my computer unattended for I could no longer open my locked classroom.

Adding insult to injury, just prior to my dialog with this admin, which set the above chain of events in motion, he left a message on my cellphone stating that he would dock my pay for the day since I had not turned in my key on-time, and hence, he assumed, had not reported to school, which was untrue.  This admin seems to relish the power he wields over teachers, especially in miniscule matters.  Sadly, he cannot see the forest for the trees and hides behind a facade of friendliness with his Cheshire cat smile.

Given my experience yesterday, this past school year, and my entire four years teaching, it is no wonder new teachers leave the profession in droves.  There are so many idiosyncrasies to teaching, that even the most dedicated, passionate, and committed souls falter under the pressure.  I still plan to teach next year, given the enormity of my student loan debt, some of which can be forgiven by teaching at my present school.  However, I do not know if I will see a decade in the classroom.

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Teacher Appreciation Week Notes

Last week, Teacher Appreciation Week, several teachers enlisted their classes to write and to distribute thank you notes from students to teachers.  I received several, some of which I share below.  These all made me smile.

  • (Just because I was forced to write this doesn’t mean it’s not specialThank you for pushing me to continue the class. It has helped me so much, and I appreciate that you believed in me.  You are a great teacher, and you rock the sock and sandals harder than anyone I know.  Keep doing you.
  • I just wanted to thank you for helping me with my math homework.  It helped when you helped me one-on-one.  You taught me so much.  I learned more than before.
  • Your sense of style is by far the best!  I love the socks and sandals.
  • I like pi.   Pie likes you, there 4, I like you.
  • Thanks for being like my dad. <3
  • Thank you so much for teaching me that learning requires persistence and failure.  I appreciate your strength and courage to challenge us.
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Great Quotations about Mathematics, Knowledge, and Learning

The following quotes were taken from the website of the Mathematical Association of America (MAA).  Each of them resonated with me for one reason or another.

Which is your favorite?

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Great Quotations about Mathematics, Knowledge, and Learning

It is a great nuisance that knowledge can only be acquired through hard work. W. Somerset Maugham

The study of mathematics is apt to commence in disappointment….We are told that by its aid the stars are weighed and the billions of molecules in a drop of water are counted. Yet, like the ghost of Hamlet’s father, this greatest science [often] eludes the efforts of our mental weapons to grasp it.  Alfred North Whitehead (1861 – 1947) An Introduction to Mathematics

One of the big misapprehensions about mathematics that we perpetrate in our classrooms is that the teacher always seems to know the answer to any problem that is discussed. This gives students the idea that there is a book somewhere with all the right answers to all of the interesting questions, and that teachers know those answers. And if one could get hold of the book, one would have everything settled. That’s so unlike the true nature of mathematics. Leon Henkin from  L.A. Steen and D.J. Albers (eds.), Teaching Teachers, Teaching Students, Boston: Birkhauser, 1981, p. 89.

Mathematics was born and nurtured in a cultural environment. Without the perspective which the cultural background affords, a proper appreciation of the content and state of present-day mathematics is hardly possible. R. L. Wilder in The American Mathematical Monthly, March 1994.

Perhaps I could best describe my experience of doing mathematics in terms of entering a dark mansion. You go into the first room and it’s dark, completely dark. You stumble around, bumping into furniture. Gradually, you learn where each piece of furniture is, and, finally, after six months or so, you find the light switch and turn it on. Suddenly, it’s all illuminated and you know exactly where you were. Then you enter the next dark room….
Andrew Wiles from the PBS Nova program: The Proof

Our minds are finite, and yet even in those circumstances of finitude, we are surrounded by possibilities that are infinite, and the purpose of human life is to grasp as much as we can out of that infinitude. Alfred North Whitehead

I advise my students to listen carefully the moment they decide to take no more mathematics courses. They might be able to hear the sound of closing doors. James Caballero. Everybody a mathematician?, CAIP Quarterly 2 (Fall, 1989).

It is not knowledge, but the act of learning, not possession but the act of getting there, which grants the greatest enjoyment. When I have clarified and exhausted a subject, then I turn away from it, in order to go into darkness again; the never satisfied man is so strange if he has completed a structure, then it is not in order to dwell in it peacefully, but in order to begin another. I imagine the world conqueror must feel thus, who, after one kingdom is scarcely conquered, stretched out his arms for others. Carl Friedrich Gauss

It is nothing short of a miracle that modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiousity of inquiry. Albert Einstein (1879-1955) in H. Eves Return to Mathematical Circles, 1988.

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