Jennifer Sauer has been a math teacher at Saugerties Senior High School for 11 years. She attended SHS (class of 2000) and excelled as an AP/honors student. She was also an exceptional athlete, making the 1,000-point club in basketball. When Sauer became a teacher, she coached modified volleyball and basketball for six years and varsity lacrosse for one season. Beyond athletics, she participates in the Lip Sync teacher act each year.
How has teaching changed?
The amount of paperwork we have to do as a teacher has increased greatly in the past five years. It takes away from time we could spend crafting lessons or working with students.
Students also grow up in an ever-changing world because of technology and social changes, so teaching evolves in response to changes in students. There are challenges related to these changes. In math, I think students have a lot more trouble memorizing because they never memorize numbers in their lives (telephone numbers, addresses, etc.). In addition, studies have shown that our attention spans are significantly shorter than they used to be.
How have you changed as a teacher?
I still use very similar lessons to what I have always used, but I change up my delivery based on the needs of my students and available technology I did not have 10 years ago. I now use a smartboard, plickers (a student response system), Remind 101 to send messages to students, and videos of lessons online.
In my real life math classes, I update the projects every couple of years because the real life math needs of students change as our world changes. I also try to split up my lesson into mini-lessons more in response to the changes in attention span and a willingness to pay attention that I have observed in students. I can’t do this every day, but it is always a goal.
How is teaching different from what you thought going into it?
I was somewhat sheltered in school because I was in honors and AP classes. I didn’t really know how much some students struggle with the material and really need help to learn. I also wasn’t aware of the wide range of students you can have in one class and the associated challenges of meeting all of their needs.
Do you think people’s attitude about teachers has changed? Why?
It is also a difficult time to be a teacher because of the portrayal of teachers in the media. People get afraid about very improbable events happening, such as a plane crashing just because we hear stories of it on the news. In the same way, people think most teachers are not doing their job because we see poor examples of educators in the news.
I know the people I work with all care about their students and want to do their job well. A poor teacher is the exception, and I think it is important to highlight the positives in education. I also think people expect teachers to fix all of the problems in society. We are only one piece in a very complex puzzle.
What’s the one thing nobody understands about teaching who hasn’t done it?
There are so many decisions to make in just one lesson and no clear-cut answers. The variables are always changing. I think teaching is one of the most challenging jobs, which is why I enjoy it so much.
What’s your favorite lesson to teach?
I like to teach about the unit circle. I know that might be crazy to some, but I believe trigonometry is one of the most generative topics a student can learn. It really promotes pattern discovery and application, which is a very important skill in the 21st century.
What’s your advice for someone thinking about entering the field?
There is so much to say on this one. If I had to summarize, always be prepared and remember it’s all about the students. Constantly reflect on how they are learning and what you can adjust to help them. If you are a teacher, you are a lifelong learner.
It is normal to look for a different career in your first year because there is no way you can possibly go home and lesson plan for three hours every night for the next 30 years. It does get better.
How do you get students excited about math?
I try to tell math as a story to help students find the connections and discover the big ideas. That is the only way that you can do higher level math. You have to see the connections and patterns. It is too much to memorize. You have to make sense of it. Students who have trouble with math do get excited when they see how it all fits together.
We also do a fun Regents review competition with teams at the end of the year. The students make up team names and get t-shirts at the end as prizes if their team wins. It makes review fun and less intimidating.
I also created a real life math curriculum with [fellow teacher] Jessica Armstrong. Only a portion of the students get to take this class, but they respond well because they can see the practical application of all that they do.
Can you explain what a flipped lesson is?
A flipped lesson is any lesson where the student receives a portion or all of the direct instruction at home and does activities or homework in class. Flipped lessons often use videos for the direct instruction, but readings, learning on the Internet, or any other method can be used.
How does it benefit the students?
I started flipping some of my lessons because I thought my students would be better off with more practice on certain topics with teacher and peer guidance. They would do homework incorrectly, reinforcing the wrong methods. I also know some students do not put full effort into homework. Flipped lessons give me more time to work with the students because the direct instruction happens at home. Some teachers flip all of their lessons, but I do not. I still prefer to be with the students to teach certain new concepts because I like to control the pace of learning/discovery through the lesson. I always ask myself, what is the most important use of my face-to-face time with students? The answer is different depending on the content and my students.