Why I Teach

Seth - Telluride, Colorado
Entered on October 14, 2008

Why I Teach

I’m only good at a few things. I’m good at parallel parking, I can cook, I can ski, and I can teach. I like to tell stories and explain abstract ideas; it’s a good thing that the only viable job offer I got after college was teaching because I wouldn’t have adapted so well to other professions.

When I was in high school, I hung out with the other academic nerds. I didn’t know the jocks, I didn’t know the partiers, I didn’t know anyone with low SAT scores. Perhaps I had to return to high school to learn about this important phase of life that I had missed out on.

I teach because I feel empathy for kids who are stuck in classrooms for hours and years. I see my calling as making the best of this bad situation. Neither teachers nor students want to spend their days struggling to master difficult new concepts. It’s a prison sentence, and schools are where we lock up our youth.

Being a high school student taught me incredible patience; while pretending to focus on academics I doodled and watched the clock tic down the minutes until class ended, and I could start counting down how much time was left in the next class, and so on. It felt like I had been running hard on a treadmill only to look up and see that I had barely made 1/10 of a mile and had 4.9 to go.

My goal as a teacher is to make the time go quickly. To do this I have to be emotionally invested in my subject and my students. I have to sell math as an incredible invention of intellectual history, and students have to know that their education matters to me. I believe that I can design lessons for students to learn the most complex concepts. I also believe that confused and frustrated students can derail a class.

My mission is to anticipate the intellectual hurdles that could discourage kids, and teach in a way that minimizes the fear of learning something difficult.

I reject the idea that school can either be easy and fun or painful and challenging. I believe that abstract ideas are stimulating, and that mental stimulation is one of life’s greatest joys. I want my classes to be hard and fun. It’s my job to make the fun part explicit. Students don’t feel satisfied with an easy A, they need to feel a sense of accomplishment. My job is to finesse them into seeing the power of their own minds.