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My first two years teaching I felt guilty drawing a paycheck. – me, the first two seconds of tomorrow’s episode.

Motivating Questions

  1. How have your professional skills as a teacher transferred into and improved your personal life?I suppose parenting and spousing are the obvious entry points to this one but I know nothing about either.
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. My answer: I talk to people more, I ask more questions, and I am much more compassionate.

    As for parenting and spousing, I actually use what I learned from those two in my classroom. I am always giving relationship advice to my students.

  2. I noticed that I pay closer attention to other professions’ teaching styles. For example, the last Tech Conference I attended, I was disappointed to see the same “I talk – you listen” teaching format from many presenters. On the other hand, I took my 8th graders to a science research facility on the Easter Shore of Maryland and was blown away by how one of the scientist used intuitive logic and the Socratic Method to teach kids about temperature and pressure.

    I find that I grit my teeth with the people who think they are great teacher because they clearly like the sound of their own voice and go out of my way to personally compliment the ones who show real talent.

    Finally, this becomes reflective on how I structure my lessons – I try to imagine that there is some kid in that classroom who is just like me.

  3. Dan, for me, perspective has produced the most significant benefit in my personal life. It starts with being able to sense the attitudes and expectations of the class to guide your actions. It also extends to parenting and being a spouse as easily as it does to the guy ranting at the counter when his flight is delayed or any other stressful situation. As a former English teacher and current principal, it has aided me greatly to be able to see things from other people’s perspectives.

    Asking good questions also helped improve my instruction and my personal life. Being able to provoke thought without overtly criticising another’s position has led to many more enjoyable and productive conversations with friends and family.

  4. Y’all get the goosebumps reading this stuff like I do?

    I wonder if this kind of skill-transference is particular to teaching or merely particular to the thoughtful individual in any job.

    Whichever. It’s good to get some extra value out of this job.

  5. I love James’ comments about people who talk too much; that has been a conversation in our department office of late.

    We have a separate graduation ceremony for our department, and we request that no one speak for more than 5 minutes. The students are always good about this, but some of our industry speakers just want to go on and on. I will even tell them, upfront, “sorry, but no one wants to listen longer than 5 minutes, and that’s at the maximum end.” Our ceremony is over in less than an hour and everyone is happy.

    Many people have asked if we could be in charge of “big” graduation, and we tell them to just make sure the speeches are short. This year, someone listened to us.

  6. I’d echo Jason’s comment on perspective. Learning to understand where students come from (not to mention colleagues, administration, and parents) is a skill that has helped immensely in my personal life. It’s frequently a feedback loop because I find myself constantly examining perspectives outside of the profession, and then bringing them back into the classroom.

    Patience, too, is a skill the profession has required me to hone. When waiting in line for anything, I match the holdup (the person in front of me, the worker, etc.) with former students. Keeps me calm. And often triggers a humorous memory.

  7. If not empathy than at least sympathy. You learn more about your students’ personal lives than I think most people normally learn about the people in their lives. In class, the consideration given to a girl whose dad died two months ago or whose brother just went to rehab extends to strangers…even though you usually don’t know what has been going on with them, you extend consideration, because you never know.

    I am better around kids. I used to be weird around kids. They don’t scare me anymore. They’re just like people, only smaller.

    I listen better. I assume less. I can’t really explain this one. I just find it easier to shut up more. Someone already said it better around “perspective.”

    I could go on and on. This is a nice topic. :-) I came to teaching late-ish, I was 29 when I started my first year, so I might be different than always-been teachers. Maybe qualities you cultivate in becoming a decent teacher just translate well. You can’t be a jerk and be a good teacher, so you become less jerky in general, even though that’s not the goal. You could replace “jerk” with any number of unsavory adjectives: arrogant, judgmental, rigid, superior, etc etc, and it would still work.

  8. Beneficial transfers:

    ~I gained patience without limit.
    ~I became less solipsistic, and therefore less cold and aloof, less likely to hold folks at arms length. I learned about the faces that inhere the data, and all this is much, more more than how to give high-fives to people much younger than you without looking indescribably awkward.
    ~I learned how to work.
    ~I was taught much about generosity and its meanings, watching those with the least of things give so willingly.
    ~When I’m drinking whiskey-lemonades in Dolores Park and playing extreme bocce ball and all these 10-year-olds come outta the woodwork to see what’s up and want to play, I am capable of scaffolding their learnings, setting clear behavioral expectations, and creating settings in which kids begin to intuit the inherent procedures and consequences of extreme bocce ball.
    ~I learned what it was like to choose the far bucket, the distant pin, the lone island off the starboard bow, barely visible against the horizon line. I learned what it’s like to sail toward that island, and to do it again and again, and what the weather is like along the way, and what it takes to sail like that, sail to that distant point against the setting sun, and keep sailing.

    Transfers maybe the opposite of beneficial:

    ~I got narrowed. For reals. Wither my wide array of interests, professional, creative, political, personal? There were trade-offs, and I keep trading, trying to get to that island, because I really wanted to be there and because the teaching culture from which I emerged told me that this is what the best among us do. No one was really around to talk to me about the nature of the trades I was making, and it took awhile to evaluate things accurately.
    ~I was unclear about how to assess the type and kind of transferring that was going on, and allowed the professional growth to carry too much water in the realm of the personal.
    ~I teacher-look teenagers on the streets of San Francisco when they’re cursing or being ridiculous, occasionally stopping to intercede and correct behavior, actions which cause friends to laugh a great deal.

  9. Part of me wants to simply say:

    It reminds me that I’m human figuring it out on the fly first, a ‘professional’ or ’employee’ or ‘teacher’ second.

    Trite? Obvious? Unique to education?


    An administrator/mentor of mine years ago told me the following (paraphrased a bit):

    Every parent/guardian/family sends the absolute ‘best’ kid they can offer to school, each and every day.

    They have no other ‘hidden gem’ waiting at home to bring in to make my/our job easier or to play to my/our biases more naturally.

    I’ve found that pretty true regardless of the program or campus culture I’ve been part of.

    No matter how seemingly funky, erratic, distracted, odd, problematic, or insane the child (or parent/guardian/family, as well) may become, it’s much easier to offer them a little safe passage throughout the academic day when I can pull back and remember that simple premise.


    The carry-over into the real world (roaming grocery store, picking up my kiddo at daycare, blog commenting, you name it) is obvious.

    The trick, I suppose, lies not in knowledge…

    …but in execution.


    Curious where you’ll go with this question/thinking in the upcoming vid episode, Dan, especially in light of the upcoming wedding and the choice you made for next school year.

    BTW, are they giving away cameras/mics like as re-signing bonuses when one re-negotiates teaching contracts out your way? Very nice. Me, I’m stuck uploading to YouTube through my Canon PowerShoot SD800 IS.

    Wanna trade for the upcoming school year?

  10. BTW, I wanna post the following comment about students (by Kate, above) on my classroom wall:

    “They’re just like people, only smaller.”

    Or at least see it sold as a bumper sticker, t-shirt, or coffee mug at education conferences.

  11. Hello Dan and company. I’ve been following your blog since the winter and it is my fav blog read. Yes, I get the goosebumps!

    I think my professional skills and my personal life skills cross back and forth and compliment one another. I also find, like James, that I watch other people’s teaching styles and have also run into the “I talk – you listen” types. I have been in a seminar for a Graduate Diploma class on teaching using technology where the guest speaker stood in front of a video camera (video linked seminar) and read for over 45 minutes from a written lecture, rarely even looking up! I so know this is NOT how I will ever teach! Nearly DIED of BOREDOM!

    I think the skills we have in our personal lives also cross into our professional lives – I teach elementary school – my husband calls me “The Pide Piper” as every child with a special need will be attached to me after the first 10 minutes of being in the class and in my personal life people who I’ve just met will tell me their life problems. I suppose it is because I follow the adage that you have two eyes, two ears and one mouth!

    I also bring my self as “parent” into my classes and consider myself as mom to my class of 26 “kids” at school along with the 3 “kids” I have at home! I also do what James does when planning lessons: I remember what I was like in grade ….and work from there.

    What I think makes a great teacher, isn’t our personal skills or parenting/spousing, but being reflective which is what your blog and its comments are. It is a truly wonderful place with highly reflective teachers who are not entrenched and stagnating, but who embrace new ideas, technology and connect with their students. It brightens my day to read what is here.

  12. Yeah, good stuff here: teaching makes you a more compassionate, patient, empathetic, sympathetic individual. I’ve elected none of those for my vodcast, if only ’cause they’re downright impossible to illustrate in a two-minute clip. I’ll be curious, though, if anyone recognizes themselves in the video.

    @Christian, I have that camera. It’s fantastic. I used it as the primary camera in several settings where a larger camera was impossible/inappropriate.

    @C, thanks for delurking and offering your input here.

  13. Christian, I ripped that off from Jurassic Park :-)

    TMAO, I have a bad habit of trying to ferret out surreptitious texting. I haven’t yet demanded that a strange kid turn over their phone.

    A negative of teaching math specifically is that I do less actual math. I employ rigid notions of right and wrong and promote the misguided bias that there is always an answer. Too much of my teaching is a Bataan Death March from point A to point B with no actual mathematics going on.

  14. I’ve learned to “seize the moment”, schedule and/or the day’s formal objective be damned. This line of thinking almost always produces a positive outcome in my marriage and parenting as well.