Lisa Lau – High School Math Teacher

Teacher Interview with Lisa Lau

shutterstock_282522956A new high school math teacher in Miami, Florida who teaches Algebra and Geometry

Tell us about Your Educational Background

My teaching educational background started when I graduated from High School. I was a teacher aid for a math teacher my senior year and really got hooked on the subject and career. I attended community college for two years and received my Associates Degree in Communications. I then transferred to The University of Michigan where I received my Bachelor Degree in Mathematics and Education.

Your Current Educational Career Choice: nature and location.

I am currently a high school math teacher in Miami, Florida (huge change from the Michigan winters). I teach Algebra and Geometry. It’s great to have this diverse portfolio and to teach multiple grade levels.

How many hours do you work each week?

Typically I work about 50 hours per week. School starts at 7:25 am, and my last class is out by 2:00. But, this doesn’t count my prep work, grading, creating lesson plans or student / parent meetings. It also doesn’t include additional class study for me, attending conferences or workshops.

How much time are you able to spend with your family, friends?

I am happily married to my husband who is also a school teacher. He teaches English and Creative Writing and actually helped me with my interview….;-) We don’t have any children yet, but are trying. It’s nice being married to somebody who has the same passion for education that I possess.

Do you have time for hobbies/recreational activities? If yes, how much time?

My husband and I really like to bike ride. Living in Miami is pretty nice for that type of activity since the weather is typically always ‘nice’ outside. We usually go for an evening bike ride after work each day to ‘relax’ and decompress. Weekends are nice too; and sometimes we’ll leave town for a day or two, find a beach to relax and just chill out.

Can you take us through what a 9-5 (or 6 am—10 pm) day actually entails for someone in your field?

Lol – 9 to 5…that’s cute. In all seriousness, a teaching job is one of those that really don’t have ‘set’ hours. You work until the job is complete and for most of us, we tend to believe that the job is never complete.

This being said, my day starts at 4:30 am every day. I wake up and have breakfast and a nice cup of coffee (or three). After getting ready for work (which takes me an hour) I head to school and arrive by 6:45am. I have four class periods that I teach during the day and I also have a ‘break period’ where I work with another teacher in the ESL department. I speak fluent Spanish so it’s nice to work with these students.

My first class is Algebra 1 for 9th grade students primarily, but we have a few 10th graders in as well. Each class period is 55 minutes in length, which means we need to be pretty streamlined about what we’re teaching and how we are doing it. Basic Algebra can be difficult for many students to grasp initially, but the way I teach it; it’s about developing a pattern or structure of understanding how to solve basic problems. Once that’s down, the rest is just that inevitable search for that missing ‘X’.

My second class is Geometry. This class is for 10th and some 11th grade students. Like the one above, its 55 minutes long, but it’s a completely different mathematic course study. So, shutting off the Algebra side of my brain can be challenging for me – between the 3 minute class break.

My third class is my ‘open period’ where I work with the ESL students. They have a great math teacher, Linzy, but some of the students really struggle. So, since it’s a ‘free period’ for me this past year I love to help out when I can. Most of the math classes we teach here are basic math.

My fourth class is College Prep Algebra. Now we’re getting serious with that search for “X”. We teach this class a bit different that the introduction to Algebra, as the testing criteria is enhanced for College Prep students.

My fifth class is College Prep Geometry. Pretty much look above and that’s what we apply to this classroom. The students in this class this past year were a pretty wild bunch, but it was fun teaching them.

After school lets out, I focus my time on grading homework, exams and prepping for the next day or few days. I typically leave ‘the office’ around 4:45 or 5, but there are some days, like parent teacher conferences where an 18 hour day is common.

Why did you enter the field of becoming a Teacher?

I started my career path in high school when I was the teacher aid for Mrs. Bettington. She was a wonderful lady that really had a passion for teaching math. I always did well in that class study, so I figured it would be easy to teach it….(boy was I wrong). Teaching mathematics is not as easy as you might think. Although the basic structure is simple to grasp (for me), fine-tuning the teaching methods to reach students of different ability is the hardest part. Being a relatively speaking new teacher (for 4 years now), this is the growth part of the job.

What characteristics do you think allow someone to thrive in this career field? 

I think that having a strong passion for learning and continuing education is the key to success. You have to be selfless, compassionate and caring for the students, but you also need to have ability to think quickly on your feet and adapt to changes in school policies or teaching curriculum.

What gets you excited about your job and why?

Each day is something unique. But, across the board, I believe the main that that gets’ me excited about being a teacher is seeing student development. When a student is having serious issues with a class, but puts the time and effort to improve; that makes me feel great about the job I have done. I love the kids in my school, but there are some that I simply want to look in the eye and say, ‘come on man’.

On a scale from 1-10 how hard was it to get where you are now?  Was it worth the journey?

It’s hard to put a number on this – even though I’m a math teacher. I’d say that my first two years were a 9, as it was tough finding a good job out of college, and had to make the huge move from Michigan to Miami. As the years have progressed, I have become more comfortable with my job and the educational path. So, today I’d say it’s about a 3 or 4.

What one thing would you like to see changed in your field? 

If I was president of the world of education, I’d focus my time on listening to students and finding out what stimulates them. Video games and the internet have changed our world, and we are evolving in the class room slowly. I’d think that maybe integrating pop culture into our teaching (especially in math) might be helpful.

What do you hope to have accomplished by the end of your career?

I simply want to be remembered as ‘THAT’ math teacher that helped my students solve real world problems later in life.

What advice would you give someone who wanted to follow in your footsteps?

I tend to be a positive thinking person, so I’d tell a new student that is looking to become a teacher that you need to also maintain a positive attitude. There are going to be many days where you don’t ‘feel great’ or don’t want to teach students that are difficult. However, you need to…because they need us. Stay positive and the rest will work itself out.

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