Important Ratio #2

This ratio runs through my head on an hourly basis. It rivals the first ratio in importance and, for me, is even harder to implement.

Nothing has kept me on the safer side of Mr. C’s Continuum to Burnout than that ratio there, which I try to keep as close to zero as possible.

The easiest way, of course, is never to become frustrated. But, psh, c’mon, right?

So here’s the general ethos you can pull from the ratio: if a student is intentionally trying piss me off, push my buttons, get me riled up, face steaming, temperature rising, she’s going to work really hard for that show.

Illustrative Anecdote #1:

“Well bite me.”

That’s what a student said to me a few weeks ago when I asked him to — I dunno — it doesn’t really matter. This wasn’t about anything I asked him to do. He wanted to piss me off.

Year 1 Dan would’ve definitely followed The Teacher Script to the letter. He would’ve become huffy, maybe stammered out a shocked, “What did you just SAY to me?! Get outta my class now!”

He would’ve taught his kids a lesson that day but not the one he thought.

So now, before I give my kids third-row seats to their favorite afternoon matinee, Teacher on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown, I ask myself: did they pay for it?

More often than not, nowadays, I conclude, nope. It didn’t take the kid much courage or effort to pop off with “bite me,” and certainly not enough to earn the full service blow up.

This isn’t about rolling over on discipline. Every disruptive kid gets his. But I decided a few years in that anyone who wanted to scrape up my love for this job would really have to work for it.

I don’t know if that’s clear. More often than not in these posts, I feel like I’m trotting out some insight into my classroom management that the rest of the class figured out long ago. So one more anecdote and then I’m calling it a night.

At this point, my students know I hate the trash they leave on the floor. This same kid, really trying to force a confrontation, eventually tossed a piece of trash on the ground right in front of me, definitely trying to subjugate me.

I considered the options.

I decided against raising my voice or losing my composure or running to my blog later that night and transcribing my loss of idealism or even thinking about it past lunch. Each of those reactions would’ve tipped the ratio far in favor of my disruptive student, whose only effort on behalf of my frustration was to flick a wad of paper off his desk.

Kid, if you want a show, you’re gonna have to run outside, pull a full barrel of trash into my classroom, and fill my “A+ Teacher” mug with discarded apple cores. And then buy me dinner and drinks. Otherwise you get nothing from me but a calm, unperturbed, “I need to talk you outside,” and a few minutes detention.

I swear: my first two years of teaching turned me into such a direct, well-composed, self-controlled, self-respecting individual, I felt guilty collecting a paycheck. I hope the same for any teacher reading this.

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. Goojob Dan!

    Reminds me of exactly what my 6th grade teacher used to not do. You’d probably be aghast at the drama that went on in our classroom.

    I do hope all our teachers would be as composed and controlled as you work to be. :D

    PS. I’m jealous of your formula images. What program do you use to make them?

  2. Great post. Sums up exactly how I feel. To be honest I look forward to the banter sometimes! You’re completely correct about teaching having the power to make you a calmer person. It’s all to do with practice, I suppose: we as teachers have many more ‘little incidents’ to deal with than office workers… ;-)

  3. Seriously. In my summers I’ve held down some office-type jobs and just find that culture so much easier to navigate. Once you’ve learned to get along with a classroom of 14-year-olds (or whatever age) petty inter-office squabbles just lose their edge.

    Steve: I use Equation Editor which I’m 99% comes pre-installed on OS X. There’s also LaTeXiT for the Mac. For PC’s you’re going to want to track down “Microsoft Equation” on your system. I think you get to it through Word and the “Insert” menu. Maybe.

  4. I realize this is a (slightly) old posting of yours, but I came across another “Important Ratio” that I thought you’d appreciate. Go to Dave Marain’s blog ( and scan down to the 4th or 5th paragraph — the one that starts with “Any teacher of middle school….” — he has a nice corollary to your ratios. However, parameterizing his ratio would take a little bit more work (5 variables?).


    p.s. I hope your blog accepts HTML in comments, or this one is going to be slightly ugly… sorry if it is!

  5. All HTML, all the time.

    Good link. Yeah, that’s a whole lot of parameters you point out. And can we both recognize, perhaps, teacher to teacher (?), the pointlessness of trying to parameterize that function?

    That many variables, it really comes down to experience. Kind of like with the exact angle of the steering wheel in a wind storm on slick, porous asphalt, in a car with a 2 degree misalignment bearing left, at a certain point of complication, all you need is a lot of experience to get it right. That’s exciting to me about this job.