Master of Arts in Teaching, 2009
School of Education
March 1, 2010
MAT Alumnus considers teaching “an act of translation.”
“If you don’t know where I am, at least you’ll know how fast I’m going.” I decided that was the most clever thing I could write on a postcard while 5000 miles from home.
One of the defining features of my life has been my love-hate relationship with moving and travel. On the one hand, moving my belongings around and keeping track of where I am can be the worst chore in the world; on the other hand, I feel that with each place I’ve been I assume less and appreciate more.
My serious academic career began in high school in Chicago, Illinois. While I’ve always had an interest in science and the edges of what we know, it wasn’t until I had my first physics class that I knew I wanted to pursue scientific investigation as a career. I was quite lucky to have two physics teachers during my high school years who not only were passionate about what they taught, but also were associated with current research in fundamental physics at the nearby Fermilab National Accelerator Laboratory. It was through their connections that I was able to begin to pursue a research career during my senior year of high school with professors at the Illinois Institute of Technology, which is where I went to college.
In college I studied physics as a student, as a research assistant, and as a tutor. I didn’t think about it much at first, but looking back I realize that this combination of activities led me to be as interested in how we come to understand physics as in understanding physics. While my studies and research brought me to people and places I would have never thought of being, it was my tutoring, the beginning my experiences as a teacher, that brought me to my philosophy of teaching: teaching is an act of translation.
I found how I understood certain concepts was different from each of my students, but in teaching I began to learn how people come to understand things differently and how to translate between different people’s ways of thinking. It wasn’t until my senior year of college that I was diagnosed with a form of synesthesia, literally a cross-wiring of senses, where I learned that my perception of letters, numbers, colors, and textures were interconnected. It was at this point I began to think that I had been actively translating between my thinking and others my entire life, and with that, my teaching philosophy came to the front of my mind.
Graduate school brought me out to UC Irvine, first in the physics PhD program and later in the MAT program. Besides my enjoyment of teaching, I felt the need to make this transition out of a desire to “pay it forward,” to be able to return the help paid to me as a high school student by my teachers.
I felt that I got a lot out of my work at UCI’s Department of Education, especially with regards to my science cohort and our methods teachers Brad Hughes and Kevin Dempsey. I was also lucky to have Kevin Dempsey both as one of my methods instructors and as my student teaching mentor. This setup gave me a lot of practical feedback as well as a lot of real time connections between my work in the classroom and our methods class discussions on the nature of science and the building of scientific understanding in the classroom. For what came after I went from being a student teacher to a teacher, I thank the faculty at UCI for giving me the teaching tools I need to stay on my feet.
The time that followed my departure from UCI’s Department of Education is a long story in and of itself, but in no short order I went from being the math teacher at a charter school startup, to subbing high school in Los Angeles and tutoring in Palos Verdes, to teaching English in Seoul, South Korea, with my spouse a month after we got married. As an aside I’d recommend the experience of living in another culture. One of the best ways to open your mind and reduce the tendency to take things for granted is to do things like randomly pointing at restaurant menus to figure out the cuisine, getting really good at charades for communicating things like “when does the gym close?” and “how do I put minutes on this phone?,” and standing in a store looking confused until someone explains whether or not what you’re looking at is toothpaste or sunblock.
Relearning how you live is simultaneously stressful and entertaining, but I appreciate more now what I do as a teacher as much as I do with living in general. Teaching to live pays the bills, living to teach is why I bother in the first place.