Tanya Time

My mom used to tell me “You are born to teach.” My mom was a very shy person with no desire to be a teacher. Somehow she ended up teaching chemistry all her life. She also told me that teaching was our family business. All my ancestors were teachers or priests. Given that I lived in the Soviet Union, priesthood was not an option. (Given that I’m a woman, priesthood was not an option anywhere else.)

After my postdocs, I ended up quitting academia and working for industry. As a result, I didn’t teach much. Until 2008 my only teaching experience was a course in Discrete Mathematics that I taught at Bar-Ilan University as part of my postdoc. Somehow Bar-Ilan University wanted five people to teach this same course in parallel and wanted me to teach it in Russian to attract fresh Russian immigrants. By the end of my course, I had way more people coming to my class than at the beginning, many of whom had transferred from the other parallel courses.

I had another clue that I was doing a good job. During one of my classes, the door was left open. A guy was walking down the hall, but when he heard me, he stopped. He stood there listening intently until the end of my class.

At the end of 2007 I resigned my industry job to go back to mathematics. I needed some financial support to do so, so my friends tried to arrange a math coach position for me at AMSA (Advanced Math and Sciences Academy Charter School). I had my interview in April, 2008, for a position for the following academic year. My interviewers were skeptical: they had had a series of PhDs who had proven incapable of teaching. I told them that deep down in my heart I knew that I would be a great teacher. And I made them an offer: I will start working in April and work until the end of the school year in June. Hiring me for two months was not a great risk, but gave them a basis on which to decide whether to give me a contract for the following year. I’ve been working at AMSA ever since.

My class is optional and there are no grades, but most of my students stick with me for all five years. (I teach grades 8 to 12.) My students show that they like me in many ways. I’m especially thrilled when they tell me that I am the best teacher they ever had.

Informally they call my class Tanya Time.

3 Comments

  1. Maya Quinn:

    RE: “You are born to teach.”

    Do you believe that some people are born to teach, and other people are born not to teach?

    Either generally — or specifically (as regards mathematics).

  2. tanyakh:

    Maya, I do not believe that “some people are born to teach, and other people are born not to teach.” I believe that some people have a gift for teaching. People who do not have the gift can develop it.

  3. Piggy:

    Dear Tanya,
    I read about your adventures ever since.
    It would be nice to read about your transition from academia to industry and back.
    Why did you change, why did you go back. I’d be genuinely interested to read about it
    for surf on a link if you already did anywhere else.

    Keep up the good stuff.
    Piggy