When did you first realize you wanted to be a teacher?
While I did not fully recognize it as it was happening, I look back and see that there were several key moments that led me to become a teacher. As a college student, I explored typical career options for math majors and saw that they did not get me fired up in the same way that my experiences working at summer camps and preschool centers did. Over the course of my time in college, I slowly recognized that the perfect marriage of my interests was found in becoming a high school teacher. After receiving an opportunity to join the teaching ranks via Teach for America, I have not looked back.
What keeps you in the classroom?
Without a doubt, the students themselves keep me in the classroom. As someone who teaches primarily 11th and 12th graders, I am lucky enough to witness the end of high school careers and the beginnings of post-secondary explorations. Seeing students through the ups and downs that come with the end of high school provide me with the “big picture” motivation to continue to work hard to ensure that they get the best mathematics experience that I can give them. Seeing previous graduates return and share stories of the collegiate successes (especially when that success is in a math course!) also provides me with timely reminders of the impact that we can have as high school teachers.
What character qualities make great teachers?
While there are many important qualities of a great teacher, three that I believe to be critical are consistency, passion, and patience. Consistency is the foundation of great teaching: having consistent expectations of students and class structures, consistently being present for students and prepared to engage them, and consistently following through on promises. In my experience, being consistent has been the main way that I have earned the trust and respect of my students - they know to expect me to be prepared to teach and that I will expect them to be prepared to learn. Passion can bring a consistent teacher to the next level; students are more intuitive than many adults give them credit for and they can detect which adults are passionate about working with them and which are not. Finally, patience is critical. As we all know, students - even high school students - are still kids, and they can sometimes make frustrating choices. Having patience with them in these moments (while still remaining consistent with expectations!) can go a long way towards building the kind of classroom culture that allows for great teaching.
What is your favorite part of the school year? Why?
While the first few days of school are always exciting and fresh with possibility, my favorite part of the school year is, oddly enough, the week before AP exams. While student stress levels can increase during this time, I relish in the opportunity to help students discover that not only have they mastered a lot of material throughout the year, but that by remaining engaged inside and outside of my classroom, they have prepared themselves for a difficult exam. While an exam score cannot tell us everything that goes on throughout a year - something I am sure to remind students - it is inspiring to see students rise to the occasion and try their best.
What is the funniest thing a child has ever said to you?
[Immediately after I told a group of students that their conversation topic was childish] “Well, what do you want to talk about, Mr. Kosoff? Adult things, like… I don’t know… taxes or briefcases?”
What is your favorite technology to use for engaging students in learning?
There are a number of wonderful web applications that visually demonstrate mathematical concepts so that students can spot the patterns and develop connections on their own. One site that I lean on in particular is Desmos, the free online graphing tool. It’s tremendously user-friendly, and many teachers have created interactive demonstrations that allow me to guide students through advanced discoveries (particularly for calculus). One day I hope to get to the level where I can create my own Desmos demos!
Everyone likes to know the morning routine of successful people. What is yours?
If all goes according to plan, I’m up early to go for a run, which gives me an energy boost to start the day. After showering and grabbing my lunch, I’m out the door and at school on time. If there are no morning staff meetings, I’ll do a lap around my classroom, ensuring that materials are in the right place and my board is updated with the appropriate information. I then attend breakfast in the cafeteria to eat some of our school’s delicious food and have informal conversations with students, before heading up a few minutes before they do so that I can greet them at the door.
What do you tell students when they need encouragement?
I’ve often found that when students need encouragement, it’s because they’re feeling overwhelmed for one reason or another - perhaps there’s too much work to complete, the work feels too hard, or there’s something happening in their personal lives that is weighing on their minds. In those circumstances, I do my best to help students maintain perspective about what they can and cannot control. When the feeling is from academic struggles, I take time to help students develop an action plan to complete one task on their list. Often, this re-centering is enough to get them back on track.
What do you tell other teachers when they need encouragement?
When I can tell that other adults need encouragement, I usually just try to have a conversation with them - sometimes about school, sometimes about something else entirely. I try not to pass out too much advice unless specifically asked.