What Is Thirty Minutes Worth?

These two photos go a long way to summarize the transformation of Dan Meyer circa 2003 into Dan Meyer circa 2009. I lifted the first one off an advertising kiosk in the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport in June and used it last week in a discussion of similar figures.

The second photo shows what $17.00 and thirty minutes will buy in Abbot’s Thrift Store where, last week, I walked around agog at all the interesting glassware and rolled them around on the floor whenever the clerk wasn’t looking.

In 2003, I would have counted that half hour as a regrettable casualty of a demanding job, but I realize now that the calculus is much trickier than that. I realize now that the return on that investment of thirty minutes of my personal time isn’t the promise of more personal time later. (ie. “I’ll get to reuse this next year.”) Rather it’s the promise of easier and more satisfying work time now.

The question I suppose I’d put to my younger, narrower self is: how much personal time would you give up every day if it meant that your students would be, on average, excited to come to your class? Would you give up thirty minutes every day if it meant that driving home that afternoon you’d feel flush with connection to other people and assured of the relevance of your work to the world your students see in thrift stores and airport concoursesIt’s worth a footnote to mention that I become more and more thrilled by Algebra every new year I teach it. Thrilled.? I think my younger self would go for that. Especially when the alternative, driving home, was this sort of sterile sense of basic competence and the freedom to do whatever completely forgettable things I did with all that free time back then.

The magic isn’t in keeping work and play as far away from one another as possible. If I can get to that understanding with someone, if I can convince a new teacher of that, then we can talk about the best investments for those off-contract hours. But until we get to that point, it’s all seating charts and pyramids of intervention and my heart just isn’t in it.

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. You’ve got me wondering if I’ll ever manage to carve out enough time to really craft my lessons as much as I’d like to.

    My time has been tight for the past 6 1/2 years, as I’ve juggled parenting (alone) and teaching full-time. The last semester before I adopted my son was the first semester I ever taught statistics, and I like to say I worked 60 hour weeks, though much of that was spent in the tub, reading. I was trying to understand the concepts deeply before I started teaching them.

    This next year, I’ll be on sabbatical, working on a book on learning math outside the classroom (math circles, homeschooling, and the internet, oh my!), and in. I won’t be teaching at all, and i wish I were teaching just one class, so I could experiment with what I’m learning. But maybe I’ll get to teach a few classes to homeschoolers and unschoolers.

  2. I still say you could have avoided this entire internal conversation by just playing in a rock band for a few years before going into teaching.

  3. Today I was at a little unconference, and I was expressing similar sentiments. I was talking about how I actively spend my free time now on Twitter and looking at blogs for resources, and how just a few years ago I couldn’t have conceived that I would spend so much of my own free time on my professional development. Is it really work if I’m having this much fun playing around with the tools and ideas?

  4. Dan Callahan had some good sentiments. I don’t see my off-work time as work unless I am doing something mind-numbingly boring or annoying. However, I will be curious to see what your 20??-Dan-now-has-kids self will say about your 2009 Dan Meyer.

  5. I am okay with investing my free time but I don’t think I am smart enough myself to see/understand/explain these kinds of concepts. I’m a good teacher but a poor mathematician.

  6. i smiled reading this post – it is hard for me to imagine even 2007 dan (at least as i interpreted you from this blog) agreeing with what that opening snippet.

  7. This makes me feel better! I spend about 3-4 hours right now (about an hour for each class) but I love every minute of the student response!