About Me

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San Clemente, CA, United States

Sunday, August 17, 2014

My way

This summer, two of my former students had to write college essays about someone they admired. They both chose me and they both scheduled me for "interviews."  After the first one, I thought I knew what to expect in the second.  I was wrong.  I didn't see it coming.

The first student asked me about my education, early work experiences, and a lot about why I became a teacher.  She asked good, "nuts and bolts" questions about me and my life.  At the end, I thought she got a pretty good picture of who I am and what I stand for.  

The second student only asked me one question.  "Are teachers born or made?"  Kinda stupid question I first thought and then I listened to myself stumble all over my answer.  I finally took a breath and shared my take.

Teachers are born teachers.  On my level, successful teaching requires the ability to stand in front of 40 pairs of judgmental eyes and deliver an engaging, informative and meaningful lesson.  On my level, if I stumble on the content, my high level kids would either eat me alive or stop believing in my ability to teach them and shut down.  But content aside, a teacher must be able to stand up and talk.  It sounds easy enough.  It isn't.  While I absolutely believe a person can learn to overcome any anxiety about speaking in public, great teachers don't just endure speaking in public.  They need it.  Great teachers can't wait for tomorrow because they get to perform again.  It is absolutely ego driven and absolutely ok.  The desire to be seen and heard forces the great teachers to be great.

And teachers are made.  I always tell the same story whenever anyone asks me what sets me apart from other teachers.  I don't claim its my dashing good lucks and 5' 6" frame.  I claim that I became  good because I mastered my curriculum.

I took my first high school mathematics teaching job in the middle of a school year.  Catalina Foothills High School had just opened its doors and by Thanksgiving, a math teacher was pregnant and gone.  I was hired and thrown right in.  Our first year school was a frenzy of wonderful confusion and growth and we all loved being part of something new.

That year, it was all I could do to stay a bit ahead of the classes.  I had Pre-Calculus, Geometry, and Algebra classes and every night I planned and prepared for a couple of hours.  I didn't like the last minute pressure and I silently pledged to never be merely sections ahead of the class in my preparation.   That summer, after being hired full time, I killed it.  I worked hundreds of hours to plan each class, outline each lesson, and write a years worth of tests and quizzes.  I wanted to be dead ready to go when that first bell rang. I did one more thing.  I solved every problem that I would be assigning that year for homework. 

I was great.  Planned, prepared, organized, sexy.  What I didn't count on was what happened next.  Many of my previous years Pre-Calculus students, now in AP Calculus, were seeking me out for help.  I realized that knowing only my curriculum wouldn't be enough as a high school math teacher.  I realized I needed to master the entire curriculum.

I did.  It took me 3 years but I read every word and did every problem in every math textbook  used at Catalina Foothills HS    I became an expert in high school mathematics.  Then I got confident and confidence is a funny thing.  I stood talled, spoke with more conviction, knew more, imparted more, and understood more.  I think that is what sets me apart. 

She smiled, thanked me, and wrote the most beautiful college essay I've ever read. 

Thank you.  

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