The Math Teacher

April 26, 2019

At the end of a school day, the teacher is the only person who knows whether or not they gave their best effort and performed well.  The great educator knows this and – regardless of their self-assessment - always aims to do better the next day.  Possessing any gender, ethnicity, or nationality, they are both common and exceptional.  The latter because their humility and passion are rare; the former because they’re content working a lower middle class job that yields little extrinsic notoriety.

They chose the profession solely to educate, devoid of external motivations or conveniences.  Summers off, great pensions, coaching sports, and the flexibility to simultaneously run side businesses may interest them, but their primary professional aim is to maximize each of their students’ social, emotional, and academic potential.  Although they know the impossibility of the task, they still work tirelessly to accomplish it.  This is because they love their student body and believe that educating them well will improve civilization. With this understanding, they have their dream job and are continuously motivated.

As a child, the teacher likely pursued a sport, an instrument, or theater.  The lessons gained from this experience have helped them understand that learning and mastering difficult skills do not come cheaply.  Remembering the tedium and frustrations that come with pursuing excellence, they value perfect practice habits and possess the self-discipline to work through challenges.  Having grown used to receiving criticism from coaches, teachers, directors, etc. they are prepared to receive feedback from administrators and communicate effectively with their students and colleagues.

The institution emblazoned on their diploma is insignificant.  The great math teacher might be Ivy League-, state school-, or community college-educated. Loving to learn is the only prerequisite for the expertise they’ve developed.  They show child-like enthusiasm for brainteasers and puzzles, read avidly, and pursue new hobbies such as learning an instrument or foreign language.  All the while, they understand (and don’t care) that our society often denigrates such pursuits.

Those who didn’t student teach under a master educator sought one out early in their career, and developed a mentor/apprentice relationship with them.  During their apprenticeship, they studied elementary mathematics extensively, while learning how to prepare efficiently and work effectively.  Well aware that university coursework grossly underprepares their students to teach the subject, they disciplined themselves to undergo a self-education.  Having read Elementary Mathematics by Thomas Parker and Scott Baldridge, The Myth of Ability by John Mighton, and Mathematical Mindsets by Jo Boaler, they find it criminal that each isn’t required reading to become an elementary school teacher.

Living in or close to the school community, the teacher walks or rides bike to work each day.  This proximity helps them better understand the school’s student body and maintain stronger ties with their parents.  Knowing the importance of preparation, they arrive to work a half-hour before students do and leave 45 minutes to an hour after they’ve departed.  Contractual hours, they understand, are not enough time to plan and deliver successful lessons, while also tending to their students’ social/emotional needs.  Therefore, arriving just before and/or leaving right after the mandatory start and end times only occur when they’ve encountered some type of emergency.

Knowing that math is a discipline rarely practiced outside the home, they feel a responsibility and urgency to give students a one-hour math class each day of the school year.  By delivering lessons on the first day of school, the day before major holidays, and before or after field trips, their students accumulate five to ten more instructional days than most U.S. children.

Because of their diligent preparation and deep content knowledge, the teacher never fears being observed.  They prepare every lesson with meticulous thought, and therefore always teach as though they’re being evaluated.  This means that they often work through their prep and lunch. Although this sometimes feels stressful, they recognize a higher purpose in their work and almost always go home happy.