Years in Education: 20+
First in Family to Graduate From College
High School Honors Algebra, Pre-Calculus, Honors Problem-Solving Seminar Teacher
Q: What do you have in common with your students?
A: I have a love of puzzles, and most of my students do, too. If we have a few minutes left in class, sometimes I will pose a riddle and the whole class lights up. I have a play table in the back of my classroom with various puzzles and games from childhood, such as Connect Four or the Cracker Barrel Wooden Peg puzzle, and students often come to my classroom early to play.
I love watching the light in their eyes when they work on puzzles either together or individually and solve them - it's such a good feeling of accomplishment when you get something on your own, or even with a little help from someone else.
Growing up, I was surrounded by a lot of love, but there was also a lot of turbulence in my family. My mother was married and divorced by the age of 19, with me, her nine-month old baby, in tow. I grew up living with my extended family--my grandparents, aunts, and an uncle. My father was not really present for me. My mother was more like a sister. We fought constantly, and I always went elsewhere for solace.
For me, math put me in the present moment; I could do math problems or puzzles, and all the issues I had with my parents would go away. I like to give students problems that take their minds off of the baggage they bring into the classroom - we all have it. And for a few minutes each day, students can smile at the delight of solving the riddle or of the trickery involved in it. Even if they don't have the commonality of liking math, I try to make it fun for them so that we all can share those moments of joy when they think, "Aha!" or "I get it!"
Q: Does it matter that students and teachers have things in common?
A: Yes, because when you instinctively see the problem that you had when you were growing up, you can help.
For me, it was coming in with baggage or being a perfectionist. I work in a private school where most students strive for high grades. Personally knowing that sometimes you don't get the grade you think you deserve, I try to let them know that it will all be okay if they don't get that A on the first test. I even made a huge poster that says, "Everything will be OK," which I sometimes need to draw their attention to.
But I have found that with math, it's not always about ability. I think the most important thing is letting them know that you believe in them. I had several adults in my life that thankfully believed in me, and I know that if a teacher thinks you matter or are important, your confidence soars in that class.
Even if you don't have things in common, for example, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation, every person deserves to feel important.
As a Jew, I have been discriminated against, and I never, ever want my students to feel that way. My biggest priority in class, aside from getting the material across, is having a warm, inviting classroom for ALL students, whether we have commonalities or not. It's a privilege to be teaching my students, and I often learn more from them than they do from me. My job is to make them all shine, even if only for the moment that they are in my classroom.
Lisa is a TED-Ed Innovative Educator. She is the creative genius behind many brain-bending TED-Ed lessons such as Can you solve the locker riddle? and Can you solve the virus riddle? Follow her on Twitter @Lisaqt314 .
Photo (c) 2017 Kristin Leong
Humanizing the gaps separating teachers and students.