The recent vernal equinox brings not only more sunshine to my day outside of my classroom, but to the time I spend within. The week after I set my clocks forward an hour, former students of mine started to descend upon our high school campus released from their college studies for spring break. Their unexpected visits provide me with moments of sheer joy as several of them validate the hypothesis embedded in my pedagogy: students will succeed better in college if, in college-level courses in high school, they are treated as if they were in college. In essence, the student is held responsible for his / her learning. Few students appreciate my approach initially, and many still do not throughout the duration of the course; a few may still carry resentment, sadly. However, those who pursue a science, technical, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) degree in college resoundingly report positive benefits to the “training” they received subliminally, and sometimes not so subtly, embedded in my pedagogy.
Six students reported back to me in the past two weeks. One via email, one via snail mail, and four in person, two of whom spoke to one of my classes. All of them thanked me for being their teacher. Most of them explicitly stated that I was one of the few teachers that truly prepared them for college. One of them agreed to draft a message for all of my classes as well as speak to my sixth period honors precalculus students, one of them spoke to my AP Calculus AB while the other drafted a message for me to read to my classes, as he needed to head back to college.
The latter student sent the following email to introduce his message. When speaking with him on campus, he introduced me to his girlfriend stating I was one of the only teachers who truly prepared him for college. Reading his email and message this evening reminded me of his statement and made me proud to be a teacher.
“I am sorry that these kids just do not understand how beneficial your course is. You were one of my favorite teachers in high school for the exact reason that these kids and parents are frustrated. I have never really been able to thank you for making us think about the concepts and not just memorize steps.
College has been super hard recently but definitely would have been much more difficult had I not taken your course. Hopefully these kids figure out that calculus is the basics [sic] of everything and working hard in your class is essential. I wish I was able to speak to one of your classes while I was home but my available time was very short. Thank you again for everything you taught me.”
Here are the two written messages to my students. It is an honor and a privilege to have served these students. I hope someday the majority of my students, their parents, and the admins recognize the value I strive to deliver in spite of the difficulty of my advanced courses.
Betsy, Oak Field High School 2014 graduate
As a freshman in UC Davis and veteran Oak Field Ram (Go Rams!), I would like to say that I honestly do not regret taking Mr. Math Teacher’s Calculus AB class. The style of self-teaching that most freshmen have difficulties coping with closely simulates that of Mr. Math Teacher’s manner of teaching his students.
I admit that I initially was scared to take his class because I realized that I would be teaching myself most of the material and there weren’t many Latinos in the class that I could feel comfortable working with. However, his class has been, thus far, the most rigorous class I have had to take in all my academic experience; but thanks to his high expectations of me, I was able to earn a passing score of a 4 in the AP exam.
Also, I am the most grateful for what Mr. Math Teacher instilled in me as one of his students because I have been earning mostly B’s and A’s on my tests and exams for my Calculus for Biology and Medicine class. Since I had already taken the class, I did not have to dedicate as much time on math as compared to my other more difficult classes. Without exaggeration, I can say that anyone who takes this class will benefit from it, regardless of their future intended career, if they truly desire.
Jonathan, 2013 Oak Field High High School graduate
My name is Jonathan and I graduated from Oak Field in 2013. My senior year I took Mr. Math Teacher’s AP calculus course. I finished this course with a B and a 4 on the AP exam.
I go to the University of Arizona and am studying aerospace engineering. I just want to outline a few reasons why the teacher that many of you have trouble with is, in my opinion, one of the only teachers at that school that properly prepared me for college.
His course was the hardest class I took in high school because he teaches unlike many of the teachers at that school. I am sure that the majority of you have been spoon-fed formulas and methods of solving problems and now that Mr. Math Teacher is not doing that, you blame him for your struggles. Every equation has a back-story and every back-story has a reason. Knowing these “back-stories” is the key to college math. For those who want to pursue math in any way, everything is conceptual, no single equation works for a problem. Many problems I deal with involve numerous equations that cannot be solved if you do not know what they mean.
As a former student and former complainer, I urge you guys to really dive in the concepts he is teaching you. These formulas and theorems are the basics [sic] for literally everything and anything you can think of. Besides Gen Eds, there is not one class I have taken that does not involve calculus in some way. This math needs to become a second language to you guys if you want to survive in college.
Professors could not care less if you know the material or not. If you do not know it, you fail. Everything is put on your shoulders to learn the material and understand how to solve every problem. The main point I wanted to get across is that you are in a college level math course and should be treated as such. Mr. Math Teacher is a fantastic teacher and without his course I would not be where I am now with my studies.