today i was having a particularly bad day – too little sleep, extremely stressful environment (we were turning in our first lesson plans), and so much left to do. it has been a very long time since i’ve had coffee, but this morning i drank half a cup when i arrived at school at 7am, which i believe speaks to our collectively dire situation, and by my first session at 8:15 my hands were shaking like leaves. when i went into the classroom for my 90min assistant teaching session, i was not feeling great. we were learning about inequalities (this is an algebra 1 class), and so i was walking around the room helping students with their classwork.
mitchell* is one of the students that any teacher would naturally gravitate toward. he is very polite, well behaved, and has a kind face. moreover, he is very bright and it is evident that he is working hard to improve his math skills. as it turns out, mitchell struggles a lot with the concept of negative numbers – how to add them, subtract them, divide them, you name it. he has trouble remembering when to keep the negative sign and when to drop it. following a suggestion i had heard from another math teacher, i explained the concept of adding negative numbers using the analogy of borrowing money. we drilled this and other operations of negative numbers for quite some time. then we moved on to the concept of dividing a number by one resulting in the same original number. mitchell completely grasped the idea, until i asked him what -3 divided by 1 would be. it took a lot of hypothetical situations involving grouping various fruits, and a bunch of ridiculous pictures illustrated by yours truly, but he finally came out with, “OH! I be trippin’! it’s -3!”
before these first two weeks of teaching, i never would have imagined how difficult it can be to teach these basic concepts, that i take for granted, to a high schooler who should have learned them years ago. but before these two weeks, i also never could have imagined how amazing it feels when a student finally gets it, really and truly. as we were both gathering our things before the bell, mitchell turned to me and said, “man, I wish you had been my teacher last year. it’s so easy when you explain it.” i almost burst into tears on the spot (even though i maintain that this was due to my sleep deprivation). he turned my whole day around, and has reminded me that i made the absolute right decision to take this teaching job. i have a feeling that i’m going to see a lot of improvement in his math scores by the end of the summer – best thursday i’ve had in a while.
*name has been changed to protect identity