Two Notes From Vacation

Hard as I try to forget about my day job during the days I’m off the clock, it’s simply too interesting to ignore. Two lessons for my teaching, then, drawn from experiences which had nothing whatsoever to do with teaching.

Lousy Drivers

The worst kind of driver isn’t the left-lane slow-mover, the driver who doesn’t really get that, by convention, we drive in the right-most lane that can comfortably accommodate our speed, allowing hurried drivers to pass safely on the left. The worst kind of driver is the one that lags along in whatever lane she chooses, a steady stream of cars to her right preventing anyone from passing her. Once that stream dams up, though, rather changing lanes or allowing trailing drivers the opportunity to pass, she speeds up before slowing down again once she reaches another protective buffer of cars.

I’m trying to remain unconscious of the fact that my class is required for high school graduation, that I won’t suffer low enrollment and a possible layoff if word gets out that my class is a miserable slog – driving diligently, essentially, even though it isn’t required.

Guitar Hero

I landed Social Distortion’s “Story of My Life” with 100% accuracy on medium difficulty, which, whatever, it took me long enough, etc. My friend told me I couldn’t sandbag it any longer and I had to move to hard. I did. I landed 30% fewer notes on average. I had a lot more fun.

I don’t think the happiest students in my class, the happiest teachers at my school, are the most successful. I suppose it goes without saying that failure and satisfaction go hand-in-hand, to a certain extent.

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. If you teach an elective (like, say, computer programming) then kids are definitely picking the teacher as often as they are picking the course.

  2. Good thing you’re a math teacher and not a writing teacher—the left-lane driver analogy is terrible. Slow drivers in the left lane are a minor nuisance, especially when compared to those who drive faster than they can control their cars, tailgate aggressively, and smash their cars into the Jersey barrier in the middle of Highway 17.

    Try again.

  3. Darren Draper

    January 5, 2009 - 8:27 pm -

    Hey, I thought you did good on the driver analogy. Or at least you got the sex of the bad drivers correct. ;)

    And as for driving diligently? My hat goes off to any teacher that can make it 30 years in this business with all of their nerves still intact. This job is as emotionally draining as anything out there – pot holes and all.

    Happy New Year, Dan.

  4. @Tom, students don’t select teachers, specifically, but they select from a certain platter of electives, some of which go underenrolled for reasons of lousy P.R. and are cut or re-staffed. I don’t know if Ben is being totally literal there, but if a kid signs up for computer programming, she knows she is taking it from Ben, whereas enrolling in Algebra 1 could mean Paul, Dan, Rob – anybody’s guess.

    @Darren, the gender thing is a force of habit. Happy New Years likewise.

  5. Well, obviously. We’re teachers. This is the only profession in the world to which definitions of “success” or “merit” do not apply.

  6. On failure and satisfaction…

    I do these little summative quizzes. They’re the bitty procedures or knowledge I want my students to know absolutely cold; the acronym to help them flesh out an extended response, how to set up a formal letter heading, stuff like that. I correct them in front of the kid the second they finish; I get a bead on knowledge and 25 small, but decently reflective grades, in 10 minutes tops.

    Usually it results in a swift 100, which the kids love– but often, it does not. (A period is out of place. Spelling is off. Something is reversed. Absolutely everything counts.)

    Sometimes it will take a kid two or three tries (over the course of as many days– the rule is a 24 hour lapse between tries) to get it absolutely, perfectly, correct. And then they run out into the hall and scream in joy.

    No kidding.

  7. Isn’t this the tragedy of the typical math classroom, lousy with summative assessment. You miss it or you get it, whatever, we’re moving on. A single try. A single attempt at success. The needle hovers at 100% or 0% for each question and concept.

  8. The tragedy of ANY typical classroom. At least in E/LA a process orientation is folded in via revision and editing of writing. (My colleague down the hall has a rubric she has developed totally around how definitively a kid makes changes from one draft to another.) But reading comprehension questions, say, or vocab? It’s all or nothing, baby.

    And here’s the kicker: study after study says authentic learning occurs via what? Hypothesis, experimentation, practice, and revision.

    I’ve never understood that, though. I mean, if I don’t back the car into the garage straight the first time, screw it. No driving.