After 7 years as a volunteer math tutor at a local high school, I was allowed to be an on-call volunteer math teacher, meaning I teach with a certified substitute present.  I address the occasional problem when a teacher is absent and a fully qualified math substitute is unavailable.  On my first day, I was given a lesson plan for algebraic inequalities and prepared one for geometry.  While I don’t find these subjects difficult, understanding a subject is far different from teaching it. 

I arrived at 7 a.m. with water bottle, lunch and objects needed to explain the material, for good teachers don’t parrot the textbook.  The official substitute took attendance, introduced me and I began teaching.  Fortunately, I had no problems with student behavior, because the teacher for whom I substituted is an exceedingly good disciplinarian, knowing when and how to act with words, inflection and body language.  My experience could easily have been worse. 

What’s it like to teach for a day?  I was on my feet nearly continuously for 7 hours.  I needed a bathroom break at 10:30, but preparing for the class before lunch took priority, and I nearly sprinted to the men’s room an hour later.  Other than a few swallows of water, I ate nothing until I finished at 2:20.  I left at 3:45 and wasn’t the last teacher leaving.  That evening, I relaxed, not having to grade homework or prepare the next day’s lesson. 

My parents were both hard-working teachers, and I frequently heard, “You can’t eat dedication.”  I’ve taught exactly one day and didn’t deal with problem students, parental e-mails, after school tutoring, worth $40/hr, but freely offered by many teachers or faculty meetings.  I’m 61 and want to teach math.  I can afford to; many of our best and brightest teachers, with whom I’ve had the honor and pleasure to be associated, struggle to pay their student loans.  Summers off?  Many teach summer school out of necessity. 

A properly educated populace won’t solve all our problems.  But it is a necessary condition if we ever hope to address them sensibly.  Arizona ranks last in per capita spending for what is arguably the highest yield and lowest risk investment of all – education.  Nationally, we invest far more in low yield/high risk unwinnable wars and impossible nation building.  Those whose high risk complex financial instruments devastated our economy receive annual bonuses greater than a teacher’s lifetime earnings.  Important, difficult jobs requiring significant training and long hours deserve appropriate compensation, which is how we attract and keep good people.  As a former neurologist, I was paid well for my training, work and hours.  Teachers are not paid commensurate with their extensive training, hours and immense responsibility preparing the next generation.  Teaching math, or any other subject, to 35 teenagers who’d rather be elsewhere is difficult:  doubters should try it – assuming they have the skills to do so.  Increased funding for teachers and education is one of the best investments Arizona and America can make.  Our future depends upon it. 

Michael Smith, retired physician and statistician, has been a grader for the AP Statistics examination.

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