Thursday, December 9, 2010

Why I Teach

This is the start of a series, I think. 

Teaching isn't the hardest job, but it is often trying and tedious, especially when you teach a subject that most people claim to hate.  I put a lot of thought and effort into making notes, designing activities, selecting homework assignments, writing solutions to the homework questions, and writing tests with the goal of not only teaching but also enriching the learning experience of my students.  If I do my job right, and my students do their jobs right, the students finish the course with an understanding of math on a conceptual level above and beyond the basic mechanics of problem solving.  More often than not, and especially when I grade, I feel as though all my hard work is pointless and all my words have fallen on deaf ears.

Fifteen weeks passes and the end of the semester arrives, which means it's time for the students to fill out evaluations.  For any classes, other than the math for elementary ed majors, I can expect high marks.  Teachers, even not-yet-teachers, tend to be very critical of each other, so I am always a little wary of how my scores will tally.  In recent years, the worst criticism of me has been that I grade too harshly.  That just means I'm doing my job right.  At least one person from each class takes the time to give some good  feedback, and on very special occasions, I have students who give me immediate feedback and ego inflation. 

Case in point, Ashley, who always smiles and introduced a fellow classmate to Jeff Dunham.  She draws the best pictures in her homeworks - something necessary in a math class for future elementary ed teachers.  She has an excellent sense of humor, as her story problems often involved character such as Oranjello and Lemonjello as well as Mrs. Bendova.  She is my first college student to ever give me a thank you note, and the envelope artwork will give you some idea of how entertaining she has been:

One plus two equals tree.
 In the note, she thanked me for being a good teacher, for finally helping her understand what fractions really are, and for making her laugh.  It is students like her - ones that are truly passionate about going to school and making something of themselves - that led me to choose teaching as my foremost profession.  I fancy myself a writer, but teaching comes first because it is a way that I know I can immediately impact a life for the better.  I'm doing my part to try to stop the trend of math hate in the U.S.  It's about the only cause I fight for: don't spread your fear of math to the next generation. 

When she gave me the note, she said, "I don't think I did very well on my final."  I put on my smile and said, "Well, Ashley, let's just wait and see."  It's really going to suck if she doesn't pass.  

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