Picture this: I’m at an event and meet two people for the first time. Eventually, the conversation turns to career talk, and that’s when I tell them what I do for a living: I teach math.
I’m met with one of two reactions:
- They say something witty about how they loved/hated math in high school, and that they’ve haven’t used it once in a real-life scenario; or
- Their face drops and they reply with one, simple word: “why?”
If they discuss their love or hate of math, I’m happy to agree with them! They are absolutely right. Often, you either “get” math or have challenges with it. In most careers, chances are you won’t come across a denominator that needs rationalizing in order to meet a deadline for a boss. If they are persistent about math not being applicable outside of high school, I explain that it’s not specific mathematical skills that help post-secondary; rather, the problem-solving methods that we give students enables them to be successful at a multitude of tasks later in life.
I’ll level with you—I know I’m not going to change a person’s feeling about math after high school. I just hope they don’t pass this philosophy on to their children. When someone comes into a classroom with a preconceived notion that math is useless, their chances of success are as good as the Leafs taking part in a Stanley Cup parade this season. Okay, I’ll give the student better odds than that.
Let’s get back to the party career talk. If I get a deadpan reaction and am asked why, in the name of Good Will Hunting, would I ever choose this career, I first thank them for comparing me to Matt Damon’s character. It must be because we look so alike. When it comes to why I decided to go into the field of math, I have an easy answer: teaching math is fun.
There, I said it.
I love the cleanliness that is math. A well-written solution to a problem can be a beautiful thing. Getting students to understand a concept is what drives me. I can be having the worst day at work, and all that I need is to see a student have the famous Oprah “A-ha” moment. (For the record: I never watched the Oprah Show. I swear.) This moment usually comes after spending 10 minutes explaining why a quadratic function has an end behaviour of infinity as x approaches infinity (trust me, it does). That exact moment is what makes teaching math worth it. (That, and the math jokes I can break out at any moment.)
But if the question is why do I teach?, then answer is simple. I teach because I love it.
I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without having some fantastic teachers who guided and gave me the encouragement I needed to succeed. Whether it’s adding humour, like my high school math teacher Rob Neilen, or pushing to be the best I can be, like my coaches Dale Baker and Brad Graham pushed me on the volleyball court, I strive to embody the characteristics of the teachers that made my academic career so much fun.
I know not everyone is good at math. I get that. But it doesn’t mean that I can’t try to make a student’s schooling a little more fun and meaningful for them. Maybe they will pick something up along the way and become something great in their own right. It could be math, or it could be acquiring a problem-solving skill. But, I hope it’s accompanied by the desire to give back to the system that helped them as students.
In the coming weeks I hope to show you what makes one math teacher and coach give back, highlighting the highs and lows of teaching, as well as generate some discussion with my readers about anything education as I strive to become the best teacher I can be.
If I learn anything inspiring along the way, maybe everyone will get a car in my class! (Okay, maybe I watch a little bit of Oprah every once in a while.)
Jason Wilson is a math teacher at Bradford District High School, a volleyball coach and a regular contributor to Sharing Simcoe. Read his bio here.