Maybe I Should Have Been a Math Teacher… Bwaahaahaa… co-written by Edgar Allen Poe.


As I pondered weak and weary over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore (well, AHA writing about “professionalization” actually), I thought, perhaps I chose unwisely my lifestyle and future long-term career. You see, in the hard sciences, particularly mathematics, there are right and wrong answers, it’s not semantics. You either solved the problem or you didn’t. Yes, they require imagination, but yet, there is an internal logic to the system that creates comforting certainty. Certainty for sure.



University of Oregon, math, building, winter

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December, that I sat in classrooms in dark Eugene on the fourth floor. Here I learned about the many varieties of mathematic expression and tips on coaching young students to calculate progressions. My dad, a high school teacher of chemistry and physics had apparently deposited some semblance of a desire to teach within my soul.



And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain thrilled me – filled me with the prospect never felt before; perhaps I should be a teacher. A teacher, not an astronaut as I had previously envisioned. But this would take years of schooling, researching things that others consider a bore.

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer, I decided to emulate my father and learn the teaching craft of yore. Of course this process had many bumps along the way and redirected me toward the histories of Asia, the U.S., cultural development, and more. I loved the classes and people until that day… That day my first student asked me “what are we learning this for?” imagesCAY7ZGFR Deep into the darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming, how to answer the question “what are we learning this for?” Was this student asking this question in class to address some grievance, perhaps from all the homework dealt out to her before? I turned for a second to face what was written on the board.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning, soon again I heard a tapping, a foot upon the floor. My students were impatient while I searched for a response that would satisfy their educational needs galore. Then the student added, “I’m never going to need this, when I graduate, I am going to work in my mother’s store.”

Much I marveled this ungainly foul (fowl) to hear discourse so plainly, though my answer little meaning – little relevancy bore. “We can examine the past to learn to reason, see new connections, understand power structures, and maybe even find out what human beings were put here for.” “So what” said the student “learning something about the Mongols or whoever isn’t important anymore.”

desk, officeStartled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken, “doubtless,” said I, as I wondered what this student’s future had in store. After class had ended with evil portended intended, I returned to my cramped cubicle-cum-office to stare upon the floor. Should I have been a math teacher with symbols, right or wrong answers, and nothing more? If I can’t impart value and aid in the future of society, what am I teaching for?

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing to this confidence crushing question now burning into my bosom’s core. This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining on the broken patent leather office furniture with the lamp-light gloating o’er.  You shall impart meaning nevermore.

And this statement, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting, round the small room number placard and course listings adjacent my office door. And its biting piercing query creates a shadow of a career path made more demining by the insecurity of adjunct hiring outside the union’s moor. And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor shall be lifted – nevermore! 

2 thoughts on “Maybe I Should Have Been a Math Teacher… Bwaahaahaa… co-written by Edgar Allen Poe.

  1. Mitch

    I was going to try a clever turn of phrase, adapting your Poe-try cum History to my Economics cum modeling. Alas, I don’t write as well as you. Cleverness, nevermore.

    The truth is that economics shares the same issue. Math is elegant, if too abstract, and too unfit to grapple with the complexity of the social world. So, economics errs. My economics avoids the strict formalism of its orthodoxy partner, so I tell stories less with models and more with history, politics, and sociology. Of course, this leads me to the same tricky spot as you, except my students often do not have a choice in taking their econ courses as prerequisite for their business admin degrees. Business is the default major for most students, who have been thrown into higher ed due to a lack of fruitful alternatives elsewhere.

    Often students believe that college is that which provides the gateway to the good life, and the expectation follows that business classes ensure rapid ascent to the promised land. Sometimes I tell them they are mistaken and perhaps they are wasting their time and future money on an overpriced piece of paper that may get them into an MBA. And then if they get that, maybe they’ll get a job as a middle manager. I point to descriptive statistics or use formal models to show how the promise of higher ed doesn’t match with the reality of the 21st century labor market under late 20th century neoliberal reforms. They seem perplexed, in the face of the cold, hard Truth of the apparently more rigorous of the social sciences. But, most usually shrug it off and those that don’t usually want to know how things came to be this way.

    Then I tell them to take a history course.

  2. Sandra Lanphear

    Giggles and awe! You certainly exercise all segments of your brain. Fun details.

    And sure, i have to deal with the question of relevancy. sometimes the importance of the topic is so obvious to me… Sigh.


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