My math teacher amazes me. He’s the first one I’ve had in years to do his job well, that’s certain. I had him last year for Honors Pre-Calculus, have him this year for AP Calculus, and will next year for AP Calculus II. I don’t think any other teacher at my school or even any nearby could do the job that he has and will.

If your teacher doesn’t demand your best, or leaves an easy way out, the simple fact is that you won’t challenge yourself to the fullest extent that you could. You’d have to be incredibly motivated and not too weighted down with other homework and obligations. My teacher has found a balance that is challenging yet somehow doable.

We went through our entire book last year, not skipping any chapters, with about 6 weeks left in the year. I had never even come close to finishing a whole math book before. We moved on to doing chapters from Calculus. Now, this year, we’ve had 6 days of school. He has been ill the whole time. We’ve had homework every day since the first day, with no instruction. Mostly review, but a lot of information leaves you during the summer months. Not everyone in AP Calculus had him the year before, so it’s all new to them.

Homework is extra credit if you do it, and minus points if you don’t. Tests are the only other grades, but the extra credit is usually enough to raise each score one or two letter grades. If you learn the stuff and do the work, an A or B is fairly easy.

The man is very smart, and not just in math. Everything. For the life of me I don’t know why he sticks around a crappy school like ours. He realizes that his class is very hard. He refers to a Math Club (that the writers of the confusing math rules try to keep you out of), and gives you a membership card at the end of your first year with him. Each Calculus class orders T-shirts together with formulas on front and a saying on the back, usually a class’ favorite Deep Thought by Jack Handy. He reads Deep Thoughts or other amusing stories or jokes at the beginning of each class. I was just thinking about this, and how one teacher can stand out above the rest. He doesn’t even have to put out a lot more effort than the others, he just demands that we’re there to learn and teaches us very well.

Here’s what our Up All Night Math Club cards read: (BTW, we each get to claim on all applications that we’ve been President of the Math Club for however many years we’ve had him)

Math can be fun,” we had such a good time,
Sick cats were singing, bad beer was behind.
Deep thoughts abounded, and the motion and change,
The calculus handled it (though ’s deranged).
All students take calculus, my TI is trusty,
My calculus T-shirt I’ll never get musty.
Derivatives, integrals, as easy as Pi,
I’ll stay up all night doing math ‘til I die.

I know that almost everyone has had at least one strange math teacher, but I can't help but thinking that my first semester calculus instructor was the craziest, most emotional one of them all.

First, a little background. If you have read any of my previous nodes about my education, you will know that I go to a podunk community college in the Midwest. In other words, neither academic excellence nor mental giantism are expected from the students, so it follows that classes might be "dumbed down" a bit from their university counterparts; however, this is no excuse for the level at which my calculus instructor taught.

The first day of class began. I was excited and nervous because I had not done very well in calculus in high school, and I was silently praying that the instructor was not a psychotic hardass that felt that half of the class should drop before midterm. He walked in and began to take roll. He mispronounced several names and seemed flustered. He began to tell us what to expect of the class, giving the same "expect to work even though this isn't a real school" speech that I had heard for the third time that day. Things went downhill from there. He started to tell us of his life story, about how he was working on an oil rig somewhere near Texas, about how he lost his job, about how he stood in line to collect unemployment, about how he went back to grad school, and about how he taught the best damn AP Calculus class in the Midwest. I cannot convey the emotion which he put into the speech; it was dramatic to the point of being comical, yet he seemed to be serious the entire time. I knew good things were to come.

Derivatives are a necessary evil in calculus, so my instructor decided to start out simple and teach us notation. He drew the standard y', f'(x), and d/dx [x], and told us how to pronounce each; however, he took things a step too far. Besides y' he wrote "why prime"; besides f'(x) he wrote "f prime of ecks"; and then he wrote the clincher: "dy/dx" -- "dee why dee ecks". I sat in awe, not sure what the hell was going through his head as snickers and laughter pierced the air. I shrugged this off as a quirk and continued listening to the rest of the lecture, which was rather normal.

Alas, fellow noders! The story does not end here. For some lesson, he had decided that we needed to understand that it is impossible to reach zero when dividing by a number by two. He drew a large coordinate system on the board, then drew a hole at the origin, and what was supposed to be a rabbit at the point [2,0]. He started off slowly, stating that if the rabbit jumps half the way to his "home", he will only be at the point [1,0]. He then went to a point half that distance, then half again, and continued to draw marks appearing halfway between the two chosen points. He drew another x and y axis, only to state that this was magnified one billion times. Then things got scary. Almost frantically, he was screaming "Don't you see? Do you see it? No matter how much the bunny jumps, he can never get to his hole! He can never get home! Never!" all the while drawing more and more graphs. He calmed down, his hair slightly mussed, and asked the class, "Well, class. Did that make sense?"

He taught the material slowly and thoroughly, and I doubt that I will ever remember half of the stuff that he said, but for that other half, well, let's just say that it will be with me forever.

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