This week, The Paly Voice sat down with math teacher Dave Peters to learn about the X Y and Zs of his job, his high school days and his Twitter aesthetic.
The Paly Voice: Tell us about your transition from teaching AB Calculus to BC Calculus.
Dave Peters: When I first started AB a couple years ago, I realized I hadn’t done any calculus specifically since I was in college, so I had to do some preparation just to remind myself of how the theorems worked and whatnot. It’s not only the theorems and all of that, but the homework problems are more complicated so I have to do them all myself so I know what’s going on. If a student asks a question I don’t like to be in the front of the room thinking about it for the first time. I like to be able to say “Oh yeah, there’s this sneaky step here, or a lot of students do this when this works,” so it’s definitely taken a lot of extra preparation, but I love it. I love teaching BC, and I loved teaching AB. Calculus is fun.
TPV: Do you prefer teaching seniors or freshmen?
DP: Again, I don’t really have a preference. It’s apples and oranges. All the students are nice. I’m fortunate to be teaching BC and Geo H this year, which are both in the honors lane. When I started out here I was teaching the Geometry regular [class] and sometimes you could get a couple of characters. But everybody’s so nice in the honors lane, even if they’re struggling with the calculus. I just have a really great relationship with my classes, and it’s been that way for a couple years. It’s kind of hard to complain about though, it’s not Los Angeles Unified [School District], there’s no metal detector when you enter the school. But occasionally you’ll have a rambunctious group, depending on the grade and section you’re teaching.
TPV: Do you have a favorite theorem?
DP: Usually when I go home, I stop thinking about math. Some people who live and breathe math, they might have a favorite theorem, but I’m not that guy. I think I’m good at math, and I’m really good at explaining things to people, and I think that’s what makes me a good math teacher. You could be a genius at math and be terrible at explaining things to people and that would make you a bad teacher, and I definitely had a couple of those in college. … I think I love teaching more than I love math.
TPV: How would you describe your Twitter aesthetic?
DP: Sadly, I have not been on Twitter as much as I have been on [it] in the past, because my life is just so busy, but I say that every semester. Last semester I was finishing graduate school, the semester before that I was taking two classes and I had just had a baby. The semester before that I was in the middle of graduate school and my wife was pregnant. I kept looking forward and I thought “Oh, well, once graduate school’s done,” but this semester we moved to a new house, which is bananas, and my wife is pregnant again and we’re going to have another baby in January, and the BC was dropped on me. And so now, where I didn’t think I was going to have a new class this year, it’s not just any class, it’s the BC Calculus where I have to do every problem. I would like to tweet more, but it’s just that sometimes I go home and I just need to sit on the couch, you know what I mean?
I have a separate Twitter account, where I follow people but I don’t really tweet, and I have a public account. When you teach, they say for instance “Don’t become Facebook friends with your students because there’s this awkward line and you don’t want to cross over it.” So, I knew if I was going to have a Twitter account I couldn’t “work blue,” it would have to be very clean, so if any parent or board member read them they’d have to be okay. I realized some of the comedians I follow are so dirty I don’t even want to be connected with them that way, so my Twitter account is very sanitized … but I still try to be as humorous as I can with it, and you know, sometimes I just tweet a picture of my daughter because she’s awesome.
TPV: Do you have any tips for relaxation, or managing time, or things that you wish students did that would make their lives easier?
DP: You know, that’s a really good question. It’s tough because I think it varies so much from person to person. I think we all say this is a stressful environment, but it affects different people in different ways. If you tell one person you need to do relaxation exercises and yoga, it might be great for them and for other people it might not work at all. And so, it’s hard to just say “Here’s one thing everyone can do” because I don’t think that counts. I don’t think there is a thing like that. But I get it man, I’m really stressed, I always feel like I have a million things going on.
TPV: What was your least favorite class in high school?
DP: I would say my least favorite subject was history, but I was still pretty lucky because I still had really great teachers. I had one guy my freshman and junior year for Advanced Placement U.S History. I didn’t do well in APUSH, I didn’t take the exam, but I loved my history teacher. So, even with something that I was not a big fan of, I ended up liking it because of the teacher. I think the teacher can be very make-or-break, I think sometimes you hear students say things like “I hate math,” and maybe it’s not the math. Maybe it’s because in 6th grade they had some teacher who was awful, who just derailed them, and they just assumed it was something with them and not the instruction. But I don’t think I had a least favorite course in high school. I definitely like math a lot because I was good at it and it came naturally to me, but otherwise I was pretty ok with the rest of my courses. There wasn’t anything I hated.
TPV: If you were to substitute for a class, what class would you substitute for?
DP: I wouldn’t mind substituting – well I guess this is not just a one day babysit a class, say I had to fill in for two weeks – and they couldn’t find anybody and they put me in there for some wacky reason. I guess I wouldn’t mind substituting for an English class if they were working on a novel I found interesting. I remember I enjoyed most of the books I read in high school, so if there was a class reading 1984 or something, I think that would be interesting. I wouldn’t want to grade their essays though. I barely want to grade math tests.