Some weeks ago I was in a meeting. For the opening talking point we were asked to discuss our passion. Other than meaningful assessment, my passion revolves around the war on boredom. My students should be doing something as much as possible. As time goes on, that's become my students should be doing something genuinely interesting as much as possible (tricking them into learning as they like to say). I want to be the math teacher I (more or less) never had.

I had some nice teachers. But were they great? A brief recollection of my math classes (I attended 6 schools from K-12):

Elementary School (K-5)

I remember stressing about counting money in kindergarten. In first grade we did jumping jacks prior to our state testing. In third grade we learned times tables and long division. In third grade we played a game where a student would stand up, they would proceed to stand behind a class mate. If you were standing and got the fact right, you continued to the next class mate. If you were beaten, you traded. One kid (my academic "rival") blasted through most of the class, spitting out multiplication facts in an instant. I was excited when our teacher let us talk about big numbers, like millions. In fifth grade I stressed about fractions. We took a quiz on mixed numbers. I got a significant number of them wrong. This upset me. I (seriously) requested we review them all. The teacher snapped "I will NOT do all of them" and went over none of them. I still remember the stare. She retired only recently.

MIddle School (6-8)

Sixth grade was the best. This guy asked the most interesting questions. I was fascinated by prime numbers, Roman numerals, and the very adult multiplication and division notation we learned. We looked at the Game of Life. Kids were divided into ability groups. There were different tests depending on what you could handle. I was so happy to be in the coveted C group. He'd pull us aside, give us Fawn Nguyen like things to tackle. We changed groups often, we had to come up with a name and a logo. There was an in-class economy, using tiny black and white bills. You earned a salary, he had a long list of things you could spend money on. He was super organized. He expected the same. I was not. It caught up to me a couple times during the year. We did a travel project at the end of the year. It was part of a national contest of some sort? You made up a road trip and had to calculate all the expenses and show the work.

Seventh grade was pre-Algebra. I was excited to play with equations and letters. The teacher would call a bunch of people up to the chalk board. You'd have an assigned problem and had to solve it for the class. I was that guy who would try to do it as fast as possible to impress ever--no one. She'd have grades ready, you could elect to have it shouted out loud or go up to the desk. I always went up to the desk.

Eighth grade was whatever. I'm told the teacher did a "many angry phone calls from many parents" kind of job. I don't know. A girl who sat near me raised her hand and said "I'm confused" a lot. She's a lawyer now. I would get bored and flip ahead in the book.

High School

This was kind of forgettable. Geometry was interesting, the teacher didn't enjoy jokes. Constructions were exciting. Proofs were whatever. I took Algebra 2 from a guy who said "what" like 1000 times per class. He'd answer way too many questions during tests. There'd be a line 15 people deep during a test. I moved to Texas, was put in a Function/Trig/Stats class. Felt really bad at math. Couldn't figure out transformations.

I took Pre Cal as a semester block. Teacher would go over two sections, then we start our homework. She'd then sit at her desk. Every day. I figured out mathematical induction, I was proud. Modular division and binary/hex numbers were neat.

Calculus was full of new and interesting notation. There was a related rates problem about a pool that was way easier than it looked. We spent a long time as a class working through it. The valedictorian was in there, he made me feel inadequate. I figured out f, f prime, and f double prime curve relations though. He didn't. The teacher was very friendly and cared and made an attempt to learn something about you. She let me draw things on the whiteboard whenever I wanted.

Ok, that was great...

...but what's the take away from all that?

I expect my experience is typical. One alleged disaster. A lot of mediocrity. One teacher who inadvertently convinced a 5th grader that it was unacceptable to not know something. Nice teachers who may not have done a ton of interesting teaching. But among that group, who had a passion for the job? When asked, what would those teachers say?

Then there's 6th grade. That was 20 years ago. I remember so much about it. It was fascinating. He was fascinating. Math was the best. I want that. My students deserve that. Math is more than problems 1-29 odd. Just because an experience is typical does not mean it's ok. I want to be better.

AuthorJonathan Claydon