I recently finished my third semester of teaching calculus to freshman college students. This means I was drawing the same pictures, solving the same example problems, and discussing the same techniques as I had in two previous semesters. With multiple sections per semester, review sessions, and office hours, it is possible that in one semester alone, I’ll teach the same idea/say the same sentence/do the same problem 5-10 different times.
Due to all of this repetition, this last semester I felt myself growing tired of calculus. I know that for my students, the material is new and (hopefully) interesting and exciting, but it was none of these for me, and I could feel it affect my teaching. I would battle to maintain enthusiasm and joy for the material as I taught my students, but I often lost this battle, as is demonstrated by the following comment I received for instructor evaluations:
“Jared was a great TA who could possibly improve on enthusiasm”
I completely agree with this student, and since I hope to be able to teach mathematics for many more years than just 3 semesters, this is a problem I should begin to address now.
For teachers of mathematics, how do you maintain enthusiasm and joy in teaching the same material year after year?
In operational human terms, I think it is best to avoid teaching/TA-ing exactly the same thing every semester. At the very least, go through the whole year’s cycle, for example, of Calc I and Calc II. Then, with the summer to further “forget”, starting again with Calc I in the autumn may not seem so bad. One’s mind has time to forget a little, to romanticize, especially to fool you (constructively) into thinking that “this time I’ll do it right!” (and everyone will understand perfectly…).
Even better is to go through a longer cycle-time of two years, perhaps Calc I,II,III, IV, and then repeat. Such non-repetition does entail a bit more effort to “prepare”, but this is the cost of avoiding staleness.
The same sort of issue exists, perhaps even more poignantly, for the basic grad courses, which most likely you’ll find yourself teaching at some point. It is very important to not become jaded, to not lose a grip on how “obvious” things are, simply because one has thought it through so many times. Knowing how long it takes for one’s own head to “forget” the short-term details is important, since it seems best to out-run the short-term memories to have “freshness” and enthusiasm.