What I learned in high school algebra

The past three days have been spent with a hundred freshmen and sophomores.


I was lucky enough to score a three day sub job at a nearby high school but I admit now that it was probably too much for me to handle at the time. R left on Sunday. The kids went back to school on Tuesday. I was still putting away Christmas decorations and cleaning up after a family gathering we hosted on Saturday night.

No, it's not sushi! It's for the sea lions!

"You'll shoot your eye out!" Ahhh, we love that movie...

But I am glad I did it. Just jumped right in and started swimming. That method, while stressful, is probably the one I use all the time on purpose. Less time to dawdle. No time to think about it. No distractions.


I enjoyed being with teenagers who are in many ways already dealing with grown-up decisions but still in school. It was pretty scary at the time to think about the question we as adults still ask ourselves: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”


But I don’t feel sorry for all of them. Many of these kids had iPhones, Coach purses, Uggs, and MAC make up precision. One girl allegedly had her iPhone stolen while she was in the restroom and I did not see a thing.

I taught three classes of algebra and I fully admit that I had no idea what the advanced algebra class was about and that class knew it. I bumbled through the lesson but decided that I was going to do something about it.

I took notes from the sub notes I was given. I took notes from the book. I stared at coordinates and slopes until I couldn’t stand it any more.

Then I started typing on my trusty little notebook and came up with a page of notes, definitions, class examples, and homework. Two sides. Two columns each.

I think it went well. A few of the students remarked that their teacher didn’t even do this for them. They usually get a retired math teacher who sits around and tells stories that have nothing to do with algebra. Another teacher said I went far and beyond what any other substitute teacher would have done.

But I am not “any other substitute teacher”.

I am a “former” teacher but only by name only. I am, first and foremost, an educator.

I can look beyond a paycheck, however tiny it may be whether it is as a full-time teacher or a part-time substitute teacher, to see that teachers need good substitute teachers to continue with their lesson plans, to at least attempt to understand content, and to not waste an instructional day. Students need good substitute teachers, not a babysitter (as tempting as some students’ behavior may drive me to wish I had a movie to show).

I want my kids to go to school and know that if they have a question for a substitute teacher, he or she will answer it with patience and not quit until they understand. I want that for your kids. I want that for all kids.

I took the kids and their cousin ice-skating right after we dropped off Daddy at the airport.

So what did I learn in high school algebra? I learned that relearning high school algebra is like attempting anything difficult in life. Have patience. Relax with a cup of coffee if you need to. Success is inevitable to one who never gives up.

4 thoughts on “What I learned in high school algebra

  1. You said it perfectly!!!! I had back surgery 1 day before returning To work. I was scheduled to teach algebra this year and I didn’t want to teach 6th & 7th grade math again. I wasn’t worried about th surgery, I was freaking out on what sub I was going to get!!! I was able to get a wonderful man who had an engineering degree and knew his math!!! But when I returned, there were days that I had to be out on and off for training. I was able to get him when he was available, but I also had some others who know nothing about Algebra. I left lessons because I have a pacing guide that I need to stick to. In one class the students had to teach the sub. It’s ridiculous. My feeling now is that if my district wants us to do all this training, the subs should all be able to do atleast algebra math. I have to be out for another 6 days from January to May for training. Not to mention any possible sick days. It’s always a gamble on who to get and what I am going to have them do.

    Alma, that was awesome what you did. If we lived closer, I would be calling you!!!! Great job!

  2. That’s awesome! Even if the students didn’t admit it, I’m sure they were glad to have you try to understand and teach them. I always hated having a sub that just played a movie. It was like a waste of time.

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