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Every teacher should have one of these in their career

October 17, 2011 pm31 11:47 pm

This year I teach calculus. For the first time. Never wanted it – less challenging since the kids can already do math. Ugly pressure from yet another standardized test (Advanced Placement). And I kind of liked the electives, and liked the challenge of the younger kids.

But here I am, knee-deep in dy and dx and all that fancy sort of stuff. Since I’m teaching AP, I must be smart? Not particularly. But it is the last math course in my school, the only one I haven’t taught.

About three weeks ago a moment had arrived. We had played with finding the slope of a tangent line to a curve at a point. And with limits. And with all the other little pieces. We were ready to find the derivative of a function, using the definition. More than ready. I had delayed them two or three days.

So there we were, with ten minutes left in a class, finding for the first time the slope of the tangent line not at a particular point, but at any point. I made them give me each step. “Oh, no!” I panicked, each time we hit an obstacle, “We’re stuck!” and each time someone in the class would point out that we had already resolved that situation in a previous lesson, and told me what to do.

“Oh no, there’s only five minutes left!” “Oh no, we’re not close enough to x!” “Oh no! Oh no! Oh no!”

As I pushed faster and further, I got more panicky. “Oh no!” I shouted, again and again. “Oh no! Zero over zero, we’re stuck!” “You can factor” a chorus responded. And as I panicked they found the value of the limit, and an expression popped out. And I rapidly exclaimed: Now we know the slope of the tangent, not at one specific point, but at any point on the graph!

It was a speed drill, with the kids playing along 100%. A clear derivation sat on the board. “Ladies and gentlemen” I gasped “the period is not quite done, but I am” I leaned on the table in front of me, and caught my breath.

And then I heard a sound, something hitting something else. And it repeated, and multiplied.

Better teachers than me have gone through whole careers without getting applause for a lesson. It took me two days to wipe the grin off my face.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Kaz permalink
    October 17, 2011 pm31 11:50 pm 11:50 pm

    That’s what it’s all about. You won’t be the only one who never forgets that lesson.

  2. Zulma permalink
    October 18, 2011 am31 6:25 am 6:25 am

    Oh yeah! There’s nothing better than teaching, especially an exciting lesson. Those are moments that you will remember forever.

  3. Mrs. H permalink
    October 18, 2011 am31 6:46 am 6:46 am

    What a great story!

  4. October 18, 2011 am31 7:06 am 7:06 am

    There are few experiences in life which can surpass the feeling you had at that moment. I miss that but thaks for bringing it back!

  5. October 18, 2011 am31 9:16 am 9:16 am

    Congratulations. You deserve it.

  6. October 18, 2011 am31 9:38 am 9:38 am

    Well earned applause I am sure, Congratulations to your students for recognizing what they were a part of…

  7. October 18, 2011 pm31 5:09 pm 5:09 pm

    I got chills! Love it. Way to go, teach!! You deserve that and more!

  8. October 18, 2011 pm31 10:32 pm 10:32 pm

    Thank you. I’m glad I have a “community” to share this with.

    Working with younger kids, there’s much more that’s more interesting. But they may not realize it, and they certainly don’t applaud.

  9. Fort Tryon Teacher permalink
    October 19, 2011 am31 6:25 am 6:25 am

    Congrats, Mr. D. You’ve earned it.

  10. Anonymous permalink
    May 8, 2013 pm31 6:35 pm 6:35 pm

    A teacher who can bring math to a point of excitement that inspires applause? That’s a rare talent indeed. I loved math, really liked my teacher, but never enjoyed a lesson to the point of wanting to applaud him.

    Perhaps this is where you belong!


  1. Remainders: To teach until one’s students start clapping | GothamSchools

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