“I hate my job. I love my job.”

[preamble – i’ve gotta put this navel-gazing, to-quit-or-not-to-quit arc aside for a good while, if not for my sanity, for the sake of the good folks who pay me some mind. a lot of good comments & questions have gone unanswered but not unappreciated.]

That header is an accurate – if blunt – summary of this whole mess. I texted it to my girl from my usual spot last night after a friend came in and told me I looked tired. If I looked like I felt, he was right, if also a jerk for sayin’ so.

The incredible paradox of this job, summarized quickly, in one anecdote:

I spent an hour on a slide set last night, scaffolding several examples into maybe ten slides, all building to a worksheet. An hour.

Then I set into the worksheet and realized halfway through I was going about the scaffolding all wrong. I had a much better idea so I scrapped an hour’s work and re-built the slides.

I don’t know if I’m glad that idea struck or if I would’ve preferred ignorance. Once that idea struck, though, I know my options shrunk to one, even though it cost me some rest.

I admit that it’s easy for me to ledger up those lost hours and write some whiny post about it, maybe pretending at earnest career contemplation, but that position, I realized this morning, is extremely complicated.

‘Cause, see, as exhausted as I am here at the end of one of my twice-weekly plan-and-teach-a-thons, today I witnessed a painful concept explained clearly. I was personally privileged with that explanation, one which soaked up half as many slides as originally planned, one which tied itself cutely into a metaphor outside the classroom, one which, as it rarely does, met each of my kids at her ability.

I am so smitten and so humbled by that experience, it’s got me a little giggly. These times come wrapped in paper, tied in ribbon, and as long as I can un-remember what they cost my body, my relationships, and my ballooning to-do list last night, I know my career will survive at least a couple more.

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. I just had a quick insight into the compulsion to keep changing finished lessons and trying to make things perfect. It’s not complimentary to the practice, though it may not be applicable.

    I’m a grad student writing technical papers for publication. I write a draft and give it to my advisor who makes changes to the paper in very hard to read handwriting. I get the paper back and make the changes. Lather, Rinse, Repeat. At some point, the submission deadline breaks the cycle.

    During this process, it is not uncommon to change something in an early draft at the advisor’s urging, then change it back in a later draft. Some students see this as the advisor’s need to feel like they caught something, so they put in a few gimme’s, things that will jump out to the advisor to correct in the hope that it will cut down on oscillatory revisions.

    I’ve experienced this phenomenon while revising papers with other people and also by myself. I can become stuck on a sentence or paragraph and change it back an forth on every revision without improving the quality. I’ve learned to catch myself in these loops and ask myself, “How much does this word/sentence/paragraph contribute to the paper?” If it’s not critical I just leave it and move on.

    I don’t mean to imply that your perfectionism is misdirected toward insignificant details; it may well be that you improved your scaffolding by 80% with that idea by changing it. Not all revisions are pointless. I just wanted to mention that I’ve witnessed myself and others caught spending lots of time on details whose importance is hard to justify.

  2. Lame. This is why tv/film writers submit rough cuts to the MPAA/S&P boards with several extremely easy-to-spot gratuitously-violent-or-sexual scenes.

    The MPAA/S&P feel like they’ve done their jobs while the original vision remains intact. Such a coy game.

    Good food for thought, but a little less applicable in my case. I imagine that your advisor / MPAA / S&P would be disinclined to recommend alterations he / it / it had to put in the hours effecting them like you and I do.

    This does speak to an enduring hope of mine, though, that as I get better at Algebra 1 the ideas I have won’t be drastically different and as such, easier to ignore (I’m not gonna put in two hours on a lesson of equal but different quality) or easier to implement.

    I’m getting a taste of that in Geometry which, arguably, I suck less at than with Algebra 1.

  3. I used to be that way as well. I’m in my 10th year of teaching and I no longer work those sorts of hours. But, I have to admit, it took having kids to change things for me.

    Sometimes I wish I could spend that kind of time on my planning and lessons and at other times I’m grateful for the fact that I have to walk away.

  4. Dan,

    The schedule and demands on teaching certainly make the job difficult. You want to do your best because these kids go through your classroom once, and they are people, and you want it to make a difference for them, so I understand what you feel is at stake here.

    And that’s clearly reflected in your great enthusiasm when a lesson you redesigned went well, that great rush that you feel when teaching works.

    My other observation is that, from reading your blog, my guess is that if you ended up in “design” or “doctoral program” or “administration” that you would still carry these qualities of working as hard as possible to do the best for your clients, be they students, or staff, or customers, because that is where the rush comes from….where the moment clicks, and it just “works.” And it often takes intensity and commitment to get there.

    I do agree that teachers are almost set up for failure–asked to sacrifice, do the impossible, do it well, and given no planning time to do it. So as I mentioned before, look for the situation that suits you.

    There are teaching situations out there where you have fewer classes, more collaboration, and more time, that you can seek out, if that helps you be the teacher you want to be.

    Consider the things that you like the most–the students? the planning? the connection? the designing? the teaching?
    the sharing? and then go towards those things?

    And consider how to step away once in awhile for your own refreshment. Maybe you should even just step away from this problem for a bit, and let your thoughts gel.

    It’s amazing how that reflective time can help the answer arrive.

    Good luck! Carolyn