What I like most about teaching high school

The end of the school year is in sight. Though I’ve complained in this blog and to my colleagues, friends and family about my experiences this year, I know I will be completely depressed at the end of the year. What I like (and will miss) most about teaching high school mathematics are the challenges and joys of working with students of this particular age group.

To my colleagues at my home institution: Don’t worry–I’m definitely not considering a career change. I know now that I lack the stamina, perseverance and patience to work with high school students. However, I am starting to see why I love working with high school students. It is so rewarding to be around students who are right in the midst of developing their self-identity. These students are starting to struggle with some of the most difficult issues of lives RIGHT NOW and I have a chance to push them in some direction to their benefit or detriment. This makes it thrilling to go to work everyday. And, high school students can be pretty entertaining; they say and do some of the most ridiculous/funny/dumb/intelligent things.

Many of my students have gone through very difficult circumstances and done all sorts of things that I never did at their age, but they still have an innocence that makes you want to coach/cheer/mentor/scold/encourage them. A lot of them don’t yet know how to interact well with each other and with adults, haven’t yet had the thrill of accomplishing something they thought was impossible, don’t yet know what possible paths lay in their future. So, the thought of being able to affect the life of a young person while he or she is in such a formative stage is both scary and inspiring. As my colleague says, these students almost need us to be life coaches more than they need us to be math teachers.

Of course, I will miss my colleagues at this school and I’ll miss the students themselves–I feel like I’ve made a strong connection with many of them. But then again, I have many more colleagues and students at my home institution that I miss terribly now. And while the math that I’m teaching now is profound, I am really itching to teach mathematics that richer and more complex. So, what have I learned after this year? The job of a high school teacher is bewilderingly difficult and rewarding at the same time.

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