Monday, November 8, 2010

Math Teacher Extraordinaire

My parents were both public school teachers.  My mother was named Teacher of the Year in our county, and my father was perhaps the most well-liked teacher in history – he was renowned for playing Who Wants to Be a Bubblegumaire? with his fifth grade students.  Naturally it occurred to me that I might follow in my parents’ footsteps and devote my life to molding young minds.

Given my advanced mathematics degree and the desperate need for high-quality math teachers, I suspect I would be welcomed at any middle or high school with a fanfare of trumpets and rose petals.  And I would likely have an immediate and profound impact on the students.  I wouldn’t waste any time babying them or trying to make math seem fun.  Instead, I would appeal to their competitive nature by pointing out their below-average ranking compared to other developed countries.  I would kick things off with a motivational speech: “Aren’t you tired of being stupider?  Are you just going to roll over and give up your competitive advantage in science, technology, and engineering?  Yeah, yeah, 'math is hard.'  You’re not even trying!”  Then I would share my own experience as one of the few Americans in my graduate math program.  I would tell them about the French graduates of L'École Polytechnique who were quick to inform me that my education was inferior.  I’d fill the students with rage and bitterness and thus inspire them to learn!

It sounds like an infallible plan, but I do have a few concerns about teaching.  I am not exactly a patient person.  I’ve never been described as having a calming influence.  And I would have little tolerance for lawsuit-happy parents or disrespectful kids.  I would probably end up like that New Jersey teacher who is currently serving 90 days in jail for grabbing a kid by the ear while leading him out of his classroom.

Just the other day, my husband and I were trapped on an airplane with an unsupervised kid who kept kicking our seats.  We politely asked him to refrain, and he responded by calling my 145-pound husband a “fatso.”  To my amusement, my husband turned around and said, “Look, d***head, cut it out!  I’m a lot bigger than you.”  After that, the kid actually behaved for the better part of an hour.  I suppose the “right thing to do” would have been to say nothing.  But it was fairly obvious that this kid wasn’t just going through a phase.  He will inevitably grow up to be a terrible person unless someone (anyone) intervenes.  I’m not the type of person to step aside and let kids like that take over.  I guarantee that little monster is out there right now, dragging down our nation’s math scores.

As much as I'd like to be inspirational, I'm not sure I can spend eight hours a day with other people's undisciplined children.  But I have the utmost respect for those who do.  

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