Even though I’m pursuing an endorsement in social studies education, the person who actually inspired me to seriously consider a career in education was a math teacher.
Mr. R was my tenth grade Algebra II w/ Trigonometry teacher. He was elegant, well-spoken, incredibly intelligent, and above all else, he possessed an uncanny ability to motivate his students.
Trust me when I say that math was NOT my favorite subject. Contrary to the pervasive stereotype about Asians, it just did not come easily to me! I would spend hours spinning my wheels and slogging through assignments at a snail’s pace, only to see the little pink eraser shavings strewn across my paper multiply at an exponential rate (I know some math 😉 )
This wouldn’t have been too big of a deal, except for the fact that my dad majored in math in college and worked as a computer programmer for thirty years. Furthermore, he just simply could not understand why it was so difficult for me. I don’t think he’ll mind me saying that he wasn’t exactly “teacher” material, either. Like me, he would become frustrated and our study sessions often turned into heated arguments.
Anyway, Mr. R’s Algebra II w/ Trig class was very challenging. It was an honors-level class, and he held his students to lofty standards. It sometimes took me quite a while to understand what we were learning in class, and to make matters worse, Mr. R would give us lengthy problem sets full of complex equations for us to tackle at home.
Against overwhelming odds, I actually earned an “A” in Mr. R’s class that year. I wish I could tell you that I discovered some ancient “math-smarts” serum and that I have since begun mass-production of said potion, but that would unfortunately be a lie (a shame, too, because I would be a rich man indeed!).
No, my success that year can be attributed solely to Mr. R’s teaching abilities. H
e made it clear from Day 1 that he expected great things from us. More importantly, he refused to accept anything but our very best.
In return for our hard work, Mr. R didn’t just meet us half-way. He always went the extra mile, no matter what. During class, he gave us every opportunity to demonstrate understanding of a concept before moving on, even if it meant disrupting his lesson plans. If we continued to struggle, we sometimes returned to class the next day to find that he had created an entirely new lesson that explained the same information in a different way. If this still didn’t work, he would always put his students ahead of his ego while trying to find a solution. If he thought that another teacher or an online video might explain a topic more effectively, he never hesitated to guide us in the right direction. In fact, on one occasion, I distinctly recall him telling me that Dad’s way of solving a problem was a better way of doing it (though I probably didn’t tell Dad this at the time).
Sometimes I found myself needing to stay after school for help. No matter how many tests he had left to grade or how much planning he still had to get done, Mr. R always ushered me into his classroom, patiently answered my questions, and spent countless hours creating new problems for me to solve.
Most of all, I will always appreciate and remember the positive attitude Mr. R engendered in his students. His classroom was a place where we knew we would be challenged, supported, and encouraged. His enthusiasm for teaching was infectious, and he inspired me to work as hard as I possibly could. Like most kids in high school, I sometimes tried to take the easy way out by coaxing him into giving me an answer. I think everyone can remember themselves doing this at some point or another. However, Mr. R would just give me a look so full of reproach that I would guiltily slink back to my seat and get back to work.
So thank you, Mr. R. It has been seven years since I sat in your classroom, but I will always remember the profound impact that you had on my life and my career.