Dear Claire,

This year marks my 10th in education. While the path of an educator’s career is murky and uncertain, I feel quite content with what I’ve accomplished in ten years.

Rather than listing the recent wins (see the class Twitter feed and mine for those), I want to compare what I’ve learned in the last 12 weeks as a long-term sub in your classroom, and relate those things to my decade in public education.

Teaching Muscles

As you may recall, I was concerned before stepping into room 908 this year that my last 2 1/2 years as an instructional coach might have… withered my teaching muscles.

I have vivid memories of my first year teaching, spending 45 minutes on the warm-up, yelling at students to be quiet, and marching them all outside to practice coming into the classroom quietly.


Those were my first few months in the weight room of education, and like actual muscles, teaching muscles take time to develop. Within about four years, I had muscles that most would consider average.

Teaching muscles, not actual ones.

Picture this guy, but with... nope, just like that.

Picture this guy, but with… nope, just like that.

Claire, stepping back into your class, I was pleased and surprised at how quickly my classroom management biceps awoke after a few years of neglect. And while I will always sacrifice “discipline” for an authentic classroom culture, I feel like I have arrived at a good balance, one where I can drive 36 freshman toward a learning goal for 54 minutes at a time.

A Great Cloud of Witnesses

During my first year teaching, I had to go door to door if I wanted advice. And a lot of it was garbage advice.

"Don't smile until December."

“Don’t smile until Christmas.”

A decade deep into math education, technology and math and culture have all advanced to the point where I can have my thumb on the pulse of tens of thousands of math classrooms, I can mooch lesson ideas, materials, and even common errors from other teachers’ blogs, and I can promote the sharing of awesome stuff, positively impacting classrooms of educators thousands of miles away.

Claire, contrast today’s math-ed environment with 2007, me walking two buildings over to Kelli’s class, laying out my notebook paper and plan book, and asking, “So… how do I teach the distributive property?”

My Instrument in the Orchestra

Seventh graders, seniors, and most math classes in-between have passed through my door in the last 10 years. I’ve deconstructed hundreds of math content standards, and even built a pacing guide from scratch. A decade of public education affords me not only understanding of the part my instrument plays in the orchestra, but “vertical articulation” to understand how the timpani part takes over where my tuba solo ends.

Knowing the skills students already have in their pocket and knowing the skills they will need before they leave makes me/anyone a better teacher, and this collaboration I recommend for any teacher, school, or department.

Recent Twelve Weeks 

At the CMC conference in 2007, the presenter flashed a problem like this on the wall.

(Something like this. I forget what it was.)

(Something like this. I forget what it was.)

He then asked, “Who got negative one for their solution?” A dozen educators — and I — stood, in a room of 400. A grin crept across the presenter’s face as he pointed a bony finger at us and barked, “Wrong!”

The room burst into laughter, and I sat down quickly with a red face.

I didn’t say another word the rest of the conference.

My poor math-knowledge was exploited to score points in the room.

Sadly, I took that idea with me into my classroom that year. 

I entered the field ten years ago with no formal training in mathematics or education. Due in part to dogged pursuit of excellence, input from dozens of smart people, and a willingness to take a risk and fail grandly, I’ve had some meager success as a math teacher.

Thankfully, I took those ideas into my class, too. I’ve made my class a place where no bony fingers will embarrass students with the wrong answer.

It is my pleasure and honor to now encourage other fresh teachers to take a risk and try something new.

The uncertain deserve an outstretched hand, not a judgmental, bony finger.

Claire, it’s my hope that your students felt that in their twelve weeks with me.

The Next Ten Years

In the car today with my wife, I expressed my surprise that other math teachers value my input. As usual, she encouraged me, saying, “You understand students and you understand adolescence; that’s what makes your math class different. It’s not the math part.”

I know. She’s great. That’s why I put a ring on it.

Ten years from now, it’s highly likely that the emphases of math education will have shifted.

Because, you know; that’s what a pendulum does. It swings.

It’s my hope that my strong suit will still be something that makes math education better. I will still be interested in broadening my perspective and learning about how to build better students, better teachers, and better schools.

And I hope the next 10 years will allow me to pursue that passion with the same fruition of the previous decade.

~Matt “The Long-Term Non-Sub” Vaudrey