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Bruce Simmons in Ireland

How I came to be a math teacher

I was an unusual child. When I was 9 my swim team coach told me "Bruce, you're one of a kind." I asked, "What kind am I one of?" She didn't tell me. I'm still working out the answer.

Thanks to great teachers and outstanding academic programs, I discovered my love for math at Robert Frost Intermediate School and W. T. Woodson High School in Fairfax, VA. I enjoyed competing on the math team (as well as just about every other academic competition available), and we were very successful.

I did my undergraduate work at Duke University, where I earned a BS in Mathematics in 1984. I then moved to Minneapolis to enroll in graduate school at the University of Minnesota. I earned my MS in Mathematics (Statistics minor) in 1987. In grad school I learned two important facts about myself: first, I love teaching; second, I much prefer the math curriculum taught in high school and early college to the abstruse mathematics I was learning in my graduate courses.

At Minnesota I was a graduate TA. For three years I taught recitations, lecture sections, and summer school classes in College Algebra, Finite Math, Calculus, Multivariable Calculus, Differential Equations, and Linear Algebra. In 1987 my graduate studies were ending and I did not know what to do with myself, so I started working as a private math tutor.

Tutoring was my primary source of income for seven years (during this time I also took a career detour as a Theatre Arts grad student studying stage direction). My work as a tutor taught me how to teach much more effectively than I ever had as a TA. I learned how students think as they wrestle with class notes, homework assignments, and test questions. I also learned the importance of listening.

Most of what I learned about teaching I picked up through through repetition. As a tutor I had to teach and/or review the same lessons dozens of times each academic quarter, hundreds of times over the years. I discovered a variety of effective ways to teach a broad range of topics. Some of the techniques were my own creations. Many other ideas came from my students, their professors, and their TAs.

From 1994 to 2006 I taught high school math at St. Stephen's Episcopal School in Austin, Texas. I taught regular and advanced classes across the curriculum, from Algebra I through Multivariable Calculus, including AP Statistics and several college-level independent studies. Like all of my colleagues at St. Stephen's I had many other tasks outside the classroom. Over the years I was a student advisor, quiz bowl coach, cosponsor of the LGBT-straight alliance, dorm parent, math team coach, mock trial coordinator, improv coach, and stage director.

In 2006 I moved to Portland, Oregon. I teach at Clackamas Community College, where I teach pretty much the same courses as I did at St. Stephen's. My students, though, are older and are drawn from a more diverse background. This allows me to develop myself further as an educator. Being a math teacher is an endless learning experience for me, and I love it.

Bruce Simmons
Oregon City, OR
March 26, 2008