Teaching is exhausting work, and on the wrong day it can quickly become exasperating. Classes are crowded, supplies are short, and the expectations of administrators and parents alike are soaring. What is a well-trained and well-intentioned mathematics teacher to do?
The answer is in the eyes of the student.
You know the one—quiet, eyes on the floor, sitting in the back row and avoiding every opportunity to join the class discussion or volunteer an answer. But look closer and see the opportunity before you. That student, the one whom you struggle to reach, is both the antidote for your fatigue and the reason you teach every day. That student, in the face of all the challenges of the job that confront you, is your fountain of youth and your gold strike wrapped inside a backpack.
Put aside your justifiable frustration with what has been handed to you at work and see the student who needs you most. Reach that student on his or her terms, at the point of ability he or she presents you, no matter how high or low. Teach that student right there something new.
Light the flame hidden inside that student with something you know or something you made. Stoke that fire until there is a blaze of new knowledge and skill roaring where yesterday there was nothing.
And watch the chains of work come undone, replaced by the satisfaction of a job well done.
Overcoming the challenges of the classroom is not easy. Reaching that reluctant or discouraged student will require all the knowledge, skill, experience, creativity, and perseverance you can muster and sustain. Perhaps all at once.
Every day that you enter the classroom you take on an arduous task as complex as surgery, as combustible as rocket science. You are the teacher, the expert, the person who can show that student the magic in mathematics and help him or her advance toward dreams that seem out of reach.
Are you exhausted? Are you exasperated? Get up and teach anyway.
That student is counting on you.
Sarah Schuhl has worked as a secondary mathematics teacher and instructional coach for twenty years, is an author, former MT Editorial Panel Chair, and consultant. She enjoys working with teachers to find instructional and assessment practices that result in student learning