Teaching Your Passion vs. Teaching Your "Meh"

I currently have the same job I had last year, teaching with the Tribal Scholars Program every morning and teaching study hall classes at Ketchikan High School every afternoon. This year, though, there's an important difference: Instead of just handling social studies classes at Tribal Scholars, I'm the mathematics teacher now too.

It's a very interesting experience, simultaneously teaching in both a field of knowledge that you passionately love and a field of knowledge that you're proficient in but hardly enjoy. I'd call it teaching my passion and teaching my "meh."

Believe it or not, there are a lot of advantages to teaching both a passion and a "meh" at the same time. The way we've allotted time at Tribal Scholars this year, I get the two-hour block of 8:00-10:00 every morning, and I'm mostly alternating between math one day and social studies the next. (Too much time would be lost in transition if I tried to do one hour of each every day.) This block schedule gives me a huge break in lesson planning and preparing materials, since I'm largely preparing for just one subject each day. It also allows me to focus my own attention and attempt to focus the students' enthusiasm on just one subject at a time: When it's a "math day" I can concentrate on being as "math positive" as possible, constantly reinforcing how useful (and beautiful!) math is.

Nonetheless, I know I can't teach math the same way I teach history and government courses. When I'm talking about history, politics, or current events, I can riff and improvise limitlessly, encouraging my students to question and reconsider ideas anywhere I see an opportunity. I can point out the relevance and value of any concept with ease, and reinforce that the students must learn about the world around them as only a true believer in the power of history could.

reviewing some basic math properties
Teaching math for the first time, things are not so easy. I never really expected I would teach math in my career; I only passed the Praxis II test to become qualified to teach it because I knew my program needed it of me. So far, I've tried to put a lot of care and consideration into planning out my math lessons, and thinking about the needs of my students when it comes to their math education. I think, perhaps, that my students may benefit from my unease with teaching math leading me to devote extra care and attention to it. If I was entirely self-assured, I might not notice all the ways I could do better.

In sum, I think it's a great experience to teach both my passion and my "meh" at the same time. The days I teach social studies still bring me a lot of joy, and the days I teach math are full of important challenges that I'll benefit from as a professional. My students know what my preferences are, but I hope they learn something from seeing that even a historian can demonstrate that mathematics is an incredible tool that will help them the rest of their lives.

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