Earlier this week a close friend, Lawrence, asked me a question. And for the first time (in a long time) I had to think about the answer.
He asked me if I were a teacher or mathematician first, when I am in the classroom. I paused for a moment to consider the question. My first comment was that, since I have yet to earn my PhD, I am not necessarily considered a mathematician. But I understood his question. He wanted to know what drives me when in the classroom. The example he used was that he is an architect first, then an engineer. His education path is engineering, but his career path is architectural design (or something like that – sorry Lawrence). But his real joy is designing blue prints for office buildings. In fact, he is going to design my future institute (a post for another day).
After thinking about the question, I explained to Lawrence that it depended upon the class I taught. This semester I am teaching a math course for students pursuing degrees in STEM related fields and a math education course for students pursuing education degrees in non-STEM related fields. My initial answer was “both: I am a mathematician first in the math class and a teacher first in the education class.”
This was my explanation:
In the math class the students really need to know and understand the concepts in order to proceed to the next math course. I have to get the math concepts across to the students. In the education class, the students need to pass a pre-service exam and satisfy this course requirement. But they are future educators and I want to exemplify what that means to my students. The goal for each course is different, so I teach each class differently.
My final answer, however, was that I am a mathematician first. If you put me in a classroom and take away the math I would be less fulfilled. I decided to teach to share my joy of math and to help others learn and appreciate math the way I do. I know this will not happen for all of my students, but I want to reach as many as possible. The classroom is the best place to do this!
So there you have it Lawrence: I am a mathematician first, teaching is the vehicle I use to express and share my passion for mathematics!