Teacher Stories Episode 3 - Changes, Changes with Ethan Weker


Hey, welcome to teacher stories. This is Denis Lantsman. I’m your host. Thank you for listening. I am trying something new with the introduction this week. I was writing out what I wanted to say and just reading it off, and I felt it made me sound a little bit like a robot. So I’m gonna try to do something a little bit more natural sounding this week.
I’m really excited about the episode this week. And the topic of this episode as you might’ve guessed from the title is about change. With the Corona virus going on right now and social distancing, I think everybody is, uh, experiencing just how quickly change can happen and just how dramatic it can be. In the interview this week, my guest Ethan is going to tell us about a big change that happened in his life some time ago.
The thing that I really like about this story is that it shows that change is not always one dimensional. Obviously change can be a very scary time, can be a very painful time and I think, especially right now, a lot of people are experiencing that. But I think that change always brings with it an opportunity to see your life, your work and your relationships from a new point of view. And I think that can be a silver lining.
So without further delay here’s the interview.
Denis: so Ethan, welcome to the podcast. It is great to have you here. To begin, could you start by telling us a little bit about what you do, and how you’re related to teaching.
Ethan: Sure. So I am a high school teacher at Mid Peninsula High School in the middle of Silicon Valley. I’ve been there for about five years and I’ve been teaching in the Bay area since 2001, so about 18 years now.
Denis: What is the school like, where you teach?
Ethan: So the school where I teach is a very small private school. It’s about 120 students or so. And the main focus of the school, is really giving students a really solid college prep education without the high stress that you often find in a lot of the Silicon Valley schools.
Denis: Yeah, I can imagine that can be a quite the pressure chamber.
Ethan: Oh, it is, in many ways, very traumatic for a lot of students, to experience the kind of pressures that they experience, at a lot of the public and private schools in the area. There’s just a lot of pressure to perform at a very high level in every area.
And a lot of students really have a hard time handling that kind of stress and need an environment where they can be better supported, I think.
Denis: And have you been at the school for the whole time you’ve been teaching?
Ethan: I’ve been in the Bay area for my entire teaching career.
Most of it has been a focus on students who learn differently. I spent about seven years working at a school for students, specifically with a variety of learning disabilities and another five years working with students who were on the autism spectrum. At this school, I’ve been there for five years, and there’s a large number of students at Mid Peninsula who do have either diagnosed or undiagnosed learning differences.
And then there are a lot of students who don’t have those differences, that absolutely benefit from the sort of environment that we provide.
Denis: And, what was it that made you get into teaching initially, cause I understand you were a software engineer beforehand.
Ethan: Yeah. So I, worked, I did a lot of math with a software company.
Um, it was a lot of network, engineering and, sort of security based, software. And it was an interesting field. I really liked the math that was involved. But I wasn’t fulfilled. I had always seen teaching as an alternate career. It wasn’t something that I ended up pursuing. And, my early years out of college, but I felt a draw towards it.
I found myself tutoring students. And so, at the time I was living in the Boston area, and a friend of mine was getting married out here. So when I came to her wedding, I found a, a position available for a teacher. So I went home, gave two weeks notice and drove across the country to start teaching.
Denis: Oh, that’s quite a sudden change. So, before we begin with the story, I always like to ask people who come to the podcast to, tell us something about yourself that doesn’t have anything to do with teaching.
Ethan: Sure. So, my undergraduate degree is actually in music. My senior thesis was in mathematical music theory, so it was math related very much, but, it ended up not being a part of a math major, so… I ended up graduating just with the music major and my first year out of college, I spent largely trying to make a living as a jazz pianist. At the end of that year, I was putting groceries on credit cards and that wasn’t very sustainable, so, one thing led to another and I ended up in the software industry.
Denis: Yeah. I think a lot of people don’t actually realize this or might find this surprising that there is actually a very significant overlap between math, computer science and music. What is that overlap like for you?
Ethan: So for me, what I was most interested in, was in college, my senior thesis was actually in looking at alternate scales. So instead of a normal 12 tone scale, I looked at a 19 tone scale and I used a lot of algebra to try to make sense of how you can create major and minor chords and scales in alternate tuning systems.
It was really fascinating. It was a lot of fun.
Denis: All right. So I think the story you have for us today is a story about change, a very drastic and rapid change. So, could you pick a beginning and to describe to us sort of where you were?
Ethan: Sure. Well I could talk about where I was right before, but it’s really a lifetime of development, because it’s really about my identity as a mathematician and, how I saw myself very much as the stereotypical math person. I learned math from a very, very young age. My father taught me algebra. When I was probably six or seven years old, he was teaching me these algebraic concepts, and all the way through school, I was accelerated. And when I was in high school, I was on the math team and I won scholarships and I won awards. And I had a very arrogant attitude. I saw myself as very different from everyone around me because I could do math that they couldn’t do.
And, even through college, although I didn’t always, try hard and I didn’t work for high grades, math overall came very easily to me. I took pride in what I understood. I didn’t take a lot of pride in schoolwork, which, has certainly influenced, how I approached teaching.
Denis: So how did this identity of being a very capable math person translate into your teaching ?
Ethan: When I first started, I was the stereotypical sage on a stage. I stood in front of the class and I had information that I was going to give them. They didn’t know the math and I did, and I saw my job as telling them the math that I knew. It was very much about delivering information.
Denis: And how did that view translate to how you saw students in your class and their relationships with math.
Ethan: So it’s interesting because, I was working at a school for students with disability, and I definitely saw them as capable of doing a lot more math than I think a lot of people gave them credit for.
But, I also saw them as people who didn’t know, the math. And my job was to stand there and spoon-feed it to them little by little in the smallest possible increments because I had this idea that they wouldn’t be able to handle it larger than that. And I looked for ways to increase their confidence, but still somehow in the back of my head, saw them as different from me.
Denis: Do you remember, something about your teaching where you used to do things, that you have since very drastically changed that you would never do things that way anymore?
Ethan: Absolutely. So, the beginning of every one of my classes was all about, going over homework, and if a student didn’t have their homework done, I would find that inexcusable, unacceptable.
And that approach just continued to turn students off. It may have felt like I was holding them to high expectations for doing math, but really I was only holding them to high expectations, to conform to the values that I had internalized in terms of what a good math student should do. Which is interesting because I never did homework.
Denis: Yeah. That is, that is surprising that, given your background of being someone who took schoolwork very lightly, you had this idea of a value of zero excuses accountability policy.
Ethan: Yeah. And a lot of that was because I saw them as being capable of getting to the point, maybe not where I was, but getting to a point of success in math. But they wouldn’t be able to do it the way that I did it. I just showed up and everything was easy for me. And since it wasn’t easy for them, they were going to have to do lots and lots and lots and lots of work to get there.
And they had to do it on my schedule.
Denis: Right. So there was a particular pathway that you went down, and due to your natural abilities, you did it very, very quickly. And these students had to take the same path, but because they had less natural ability, you saw that they would have to be very, very diligent about their homework if they had any hope of advancing in the same direction as you.
Ethan: That’s exactly how I saw them. Very much the same way that I saw my peers when I was going through school in that I believe that the students who did well were all students who were working hard except for me. And the students who weren’t doing well were lazy.
I saw it as very much of a work ethic. And I believed that I was the exception. It was an incredibly arrogant mindset that I had at the time.
Denis: So were there any other examples of how this showed up in your teaching?
Ethan: There were, because I did have a few students who had come in with, some very advanced math background. And so I saw them as capable and maybe even similar to, who I was as a student. And because of that, sometimes I let a lot of things go for them and I definitely allowed them to slack off a little bit more, as opposed to, holding them to the same standards as everyone else.
And for many reasons, I was doing them a disservice. Because for them, like for me, a lot of the focus was very much on, how quickly can you get through material and get to the most advanced math level that you possibly can get to.
Denis: Could you talk a little bit more about what it meant for you at the time to be good at math and what you saw in your students that made this distinction for you, between students who were capable and students who were not.
Ethan: Sure. So for me, I grew up, with the mad minute kind of tests in elementary school where you had so many multiplication problems to do in a minute, and I did all of them. And through high school, I never did the homework, but whenever I was called to go up and do a homework problem, I would write down what the problem was and pretend I was copying from my notebook as I did the problem in my head on the board. So for me, that was what it meant to be good at math. It was, can I do it quickly? Can I do it correctly every single time without working at it?
It was all about speed. It was all about accuracy. It wasn’t really about depth of knowledge. It was all about the answer.
Denis: I think this is something that people who don’t study mathematics deeply might be surprised by, but the situation where you see the problem and you instantly know what the solution is — do you think that this is a realistic portrayal of what actual mathematics is like?
Ethan: Absolutely not. And even when I was working as a mathematician, that wasn’t the majority of the work that I was doing. The majority of the time I was struggling through really, really difficult and challenging problems.
And it was never about speed. It was about making sense of how various different parts of a problem all fit together.
Denis: So I’m wondering about this connection then between valuing someone who can see a problem and instantly arrive at the solution . And so then the work that you had experience doing as a mathematician. How did those things relate in your mind, as you transitioned into the classroom?
Ethan: It’s funny because I didn’t actually connect them. I saw them as very different things.
And traditionally what we focus on is what is the method to get from this equation to this answer. It is all about that quickness and the efficiency and the accuracy, but not necessarily about the problem solving. A technique that ends up being so much more valuable, and valuable not just in math, but outside of the realm of math too.
Denis: We’re talking kind of cryptically about this, like before and after what you thought then what do you think now? Could you walk us through the events that led you to have this change in your beliefs about mathematics?
Ethan: Sure, absolutely.
Um, So this was, 2004, and it was my third year teaching. My best friend, was about to turn 30 , and I flew out to Boston for a weekend, from San Francisco, which I can’t imagine now. But I flew out for a weekend to surprise him for his birthday.
And, when I got back to San Francisco, I felt a little sick. I thought, Oh, I must have caught a flu. I had a bit of a fever. Had a headache and the headache got worse and worse. And it got to a point where I couldn’t function. I was dizzy, I couldn’t walk. And I went into the doctor and they did some tests and turned out, I had meningitis.
And it was a huge concern, a huge shock. It’s a really serious disease. I have some other medical conditions that could’ve made it more serious.
I was in and out of the hospital at that time. I remember, so vividly the night that the Red Sox won the world series. Growing up in Boston, this was a huge deal. And the night that they won the world series, I was in the hospital getting a spinal tap and they released me at four in the morning because I had horrible insurance and they weren’t going to pay for an overnight stay. And I got out of the hospital, and I turned on my cell phone so I could get a cab home. And I had numerous messages and I expected it to be, oh, maybe it’s people checking in on me.
No, it was about the Red Sox winning the world series, which was amusing at the time. But, it’s very much highlights how significant this event was. I didn’t care. And that was surprising to me.
And so for the next several months, I was, unable to teach properly. Even after I was able to get back into the classroom, I couldn’t speak at the pace that I used to. I had very poor recall of words.
I had very poor vocabulary, which took me a while to get back. And even now, my word recall is poor. My working memory, the ability for me to hold an idea or a thought or a number in my head had greatly diminished. And my ability to process anything, but specifically for me, mathematical ideas quickly, was gone.
I remember when I went in to do some neurological testing to determine how much my brain had been affected, or was being affected by the meningitis. The neurologist had me count backward from a hundred by sevens, which I did very easily. And he said, oh, it seems like you’re in pretty good shape.
And I said, well, why don’t you ask me to calculate the square root of a three digit number to two decimal places? He said, well, you know, you can’t do that. People can’t do that. And I said, three weeks ago I was able to do that.
My entire identity as a mathematician was shattered and I felt like my career as a math teacher might be over, certainly my sense of self as an elite mathematician was over.
And I had no idea what was coming next. I had no idea how I was going to be a successful teacher, a successful mathematician, a successful person in life. I wasn’t sure how my personal relationships would be affected my social relationships. I had no idea what was coming.
Denis: So, you did return to the classroom eventually. Can you tell me a little bit about what that return was like?
Ethan: As soon as I got back to the classroom, a few weeks later, I felt very uncomfortable. I felt physically uncomfortable just standing in front of the classroom. I still felt dizzy and unsure of myself. So, the idea of me standing in front of the classroom and just writing on a whiteboard and talking was beyond me. I spent a lot more time sitting. I spent a lot more time putting notes up and then sitting down and having students talk. And somehow things didn’t fall apart.
Somehow things actually in some ways got better in those classes. I was able to spend more time of listening to students. And, as I listened to them think, I realized they have ideas that I had never considered before, and I started to wonder how many of the students that I had in the previous years had thoughts that I hadn’t considered that may have been very valid and I didn’t give them that feedback.
I started to encourage my students. And sometimes it was having them re-explain something that I had written and sometimes it was asking them what they thought might be a good approach to take. I was doing things that were very different from every math class I’ve ever taught, and every math class I’d ever sat in.
As it turned out, these were not new ideas by any means. But it was new to me, and it was a revelation to me how different it was that students started to see themselves as more of a partner with me in their education and over time, that’s absolutely how I have changed in terms of my identity as a math teacher.
I see myself so much more as a partner with each of my students. And not in that same way as just the deliverer of information.
Denis: If someone came up to you, three weeks prior and told you that, you should teach your class in this way, that you should take a back seat, you should let students share their thinking and explore their thinking more. Do you think you would have, gone with it?
Ethan: I’d like to think I would have, but I doubt it. I still saw myself very much as an excellent teacher and I got a lot of feedback that I was an excellent teacher. You know, parents and students largely were very happy with how my classroom was run.
The head of this school was very happy with what happened in my classroom. Students felt comfortable. They felt happy about math. They felt capable about math in a lot of ways. But they hadn’t developed the identity as mathematicians that they later did. I don’t know that, there’s anything anyone could have told me, beforehand, that would have convinced me .
Denis: I want to visit this concept of control. Here you are someone who is an experienced mathematician. You understand the conversation, you understand all the methods. You have this capacity to keep all of this in your head and you weren’t able to do that anymore. And I’m wondering if, there was any fear that you experienced of being able to manage a classroom without this control .
Ethan: I definitely had a certain amount of fear, not a lot. And I think a lot of that was because I had developed really good relationships with my students. So I wasn’t too worried about my overall classroom management and how I would manage, sort of, behavior or anything along those lines. But in terms of being able to deliver information, I was absolutely terrified that that just wasn’t going to happen.
Denis: So you wouldn’t be able to show them the right way.
Ethan: Exactly
Denis: And the fear was that they wouldn’t be able to find the way without your guidance.
Ethan: It didn’t even occur to me that them finding a way without my guidance would have been a possibility. Which is very strange because. People have been discovering their own ways of doing math and problem solving since the first humans started counting. So people have always had that ability, and yet it never occurred to me, at that point in my life that people could do that without a teacher standing there and telling them.
Denis: So now, looking back, how your teaching practice has changed over the last 15 years after these events, can you, tell us what the big macro changes were?
Ethan: I had always, as I said, identified as this very strong mathematician, and all of a sudden there were problems that I felt I should know how to do and I could no longer do. And I knew what the steps should be. I, in theory, knew what approaches to take, but the actual putting it all together and coming to an answer was jumbled in my head.
And it was no longer easy for me. And I suddenly started to have a real realization of what it must be like to some degree for many of my students.
And as I mentioned, most of my career has been working with students with various learning differences and I suddenly had an idea of what it was like to feel like you could solve the problem, but being unable to solve it and not know why. And while I can’t say I identify with any specific learning disability, I can empathize with that grand idea of feeling like you’re not sure exactly what to do.
And then I realized that there are structures that are available to help. And for me, sometimes that meant writing things down or drawing pictures and approaching things a lot more visually than I used to.
There are many different ways of approaching a problem , and there’s not one way that’s inherently better than another. Some people may find certain ways more efficient or faster. Some ways maybe easier for some people to remember. It makes a much better mathematical experience if you’re able to identify and appreciate and validate each of those different approaches.
Denis: So can you talk a bit about, what are some things that you do in your classroom right now that illustrate this change in understanding?
Ethan: So one way that I try to do this is I do a lot of group work with students where there is a lot more communication in my classes. A lot of our classes are discussion-based, and I spend many of my classes barely talking. But instead I walk from group to group and I listen carefully to what students are telling each other.
And one of the things that I’ve found is that students who may in the past have not identified as strong math students now are able to talk through problems. And sometimes once you’re owning one part of an approach to a problem and another student owning another part of an approach to a problem can come together to develop an entire solution, that neither one of them may have come up with individually.
But they’re also developing an appreciation for the complexity of a problem and, through group work that changes groups every day or every project, students are always working with each other and listening to different ideas and starting to appreciate the various, different, minds that can come together and solve problems.
Denis: So we talked earlier about, a young teacher you, making a distinction between sort of advanced students and less advanced students. When you see a student like that now that is very fluent in computation that is able to do things very, very quickly in their head, what is your reaction to that student?
Ethan: I want them to understand how important it is to start to look deeper into problems that they already understand, to find out if they can understand them better.
And so a lot of students who understand, the process for getting an answer may not always understand why that process works. A really good example that comes up frequently is when they’re going to multiply or divide fractions, students end up with various different tricks that they learn of, you know, change it to a multiplication problem and multiply by the reciprocal without really understanding why.
And having a student who can take two fractions and divide them and get an answer and get it right every time, and asking them to give an example of how that might actually show up in real life or how that might show up in a diagram; suddenly has them thinking about not just the answer, but what that problem is really asking . Understanding what a fraction really is. Understanding what it means for a number to be a number, and what is multiplication, what is division, why are they so closely related? And how do you sort of make better sense of that?
Many of the students who have always identified very strongly in math sometimes will be resistant to that at first. But through a lot of work on relationship building, I’ve been able to help them see some of those values.
Denis: So we talked earlier about, your approach to homework as being this like zero excuses, sort of, ordeal. What is your current approach to homework?
Ethan: That’s been probably the most drastic turnaround, so I apologize to all of my students from 15 and 20 years ago. With rare exceptions, I no longer require homework. I do assign homework fairly regularly, but when I assign it, I provide the answers and the only thing I’m grading them on is their reflection on their experience with the homework assignments.
So in the past, I had students who would not bother doing the homework because they didn’t get it. And I would have students who would zoom through the homework because it was really, really easy for them. And for both of those groups of students, it wasn’t actually helping them.
And then I have some students who would work through it and sometimes get frustrated, and they kind of struggle and then they eventually get to the end after an hour and a half or two hours of what I thought was a 15 minute assignment. And for every group of students or for the majority of students, homework wasn’t working.
What I have found since I changed my homework policy is students are more likely to come to me for help. They’re more likely to make attempts on problems that they’re not sure about how to approach because they are not going to be penalized if it’s wrong.
So a student who didn’t understand what was going on or it was going to have a hard time with getting an entire, homework assignment right. In the past, they just didn’t bother doing the homework because it’s better to just not do it and get a zero then do it and get a failing grade on it and being told that they weren’t smart.
In that case they were able to not do it and take pride in their ownership of not doing it. And that way it wasn’t the teacher telling them they were dumb. It was they were telling the teacher, I’m not going to do this.
Now. I don’t have that problem. It’s not to say every student does every amount of practice that they should be doing, ‘cause there are certainly students who don’t do all the practice that would benefit them. But I have many more students doing more homework and more effective homework now than in the past.
Denis: So a student who is really struggling with the material, who looks at the problem set and says, I don’t know how to do any of this, and writes that as their reflection and hands it back to you. What happens with that student? Do they get full credit for doing that homework assignment?
Ethan: They get full credit for the reflection on that homework assignment. Part of the reflection process is, what’s the specific question that you or someone else might have on this homework assignment?
So that addresses both the students who didn’t do it because they understood it. They still have to think about why someone else might have had difficulty with it. What might be a sticking point for someone?
And then someone who didn’t even know where to start? Well, I want them to be able to identify some specific question that they might start with. Even if it’s in this particular problem, I wasn’t sure what the first step was. And that gives me so much important feedback right away, and I’m able to work with students individually with more meaningful information than I would have otherwise.
Denis: So something you mentioned earlier was, you felt comfortable coming back into your classroom because you felt like you had positive relationships with your students.
And, I think this, this question of relationships came up a couple of times in our discussion. Can you talk about how your relationships with your students changed before and after?
Ethan: Yeah, I mean, I think, my view of them is probably the biggest thing that had changed, my relationships with students.
I think I’ve always, made a focus of my teaching practice from the beginning. I saw that as critical and I think a lot of that goes back to the close relationship I had with specifically my math advisor, Dr. Bonnie Shawn, in college, she was someone who I closely identified with and really respected. And she’s the one who helped me see myself not just as someone who was strong in math, which is how I saw myself already, but someone who could appreciate and enjoy math. And that was new for me at the time, and that was something that I knew that I wanted my students to have was an appreciation for math.
And even if not every student loves math, ideally, all of my students will love math by the end of their time with me, but I’m realistic. I want every student to understand why someone like me does love math. And why is it that lots of people can love math?
Denis: Okay, so we are recording this in Desmos headquarters, immediately following the San Francisco math circle. So clearly you are still someone who does math and enjoys doing math recreationally. I think you said earlier that, right after you had meningitis, you were worried that your math identity was shattered and that you wouldn’t necessarily be able to do and enjoy math anymore.
It seems like that didn’t happen. What is your relationship with math like now?
Ethan: It’s probably stronger than ever. And a lot of it is because I don’t find it as easy. I do have to look at different pathways and different approaches to problem solving. And because of that, not only does it make me a better teacher, which it does, but it makes me a better mathematician.
It is so sort of interesting to me, to think about math, not just at a very high level. I mean, I am not just fascinated now by problems in topology and analysis. Even talking to my young daughters, I’ve got daughters that are four and seven years old, and I’m realizing that, even though they’re very young, they have really amazing approaches to mathematical thinking. And both of them have individually realized that there’s this thing called negative numbers, and, I don’t think I was the one that put it in their head.
Being able to see the wide range of mathematical ideas that are absolutely accessible to a wide range of mathematical backgrounds and people of various different ages has made me really think a lot differently about what math is and who it’s for.
Denis: So we talked about how before, you used to be able to do a lot of computations in your head. Could you give us an example of something that you found that you were no longer able to do and how you cope with the similar sort of problem now?
Ethan: Yeah. Things like multiplying two digit numbers used to be very easy for me, multiplying three and four digit numbers used to be easy for me. I can’t do it anymore. I cannot hold numbers, even single digits, I can’t hold them to carry and to add and things like that.
But something that I now have seen many times through doing number talks in my classes , I now approach that kind of multiplication in a very visual way, in a what we now talk about as an area model, which is now very common in elementary school approaches to introducing multiplication. And by taking this very visual approach, thinking about this, not as an arithmetic problem, but more like a geometry problem with finding the areas of rectangles. It makes it something that I can do, maybe not totally in my head, but much more easily.
And because I’m able to do that now much more easily, it has opened me up over the years to realize and understand the importance of validating every single approach that students take if it works for them and it makes mathematical sense. It’s something that should be justified and should be rewarded. And it’s something that I don’t think we used to do.
Denis: Yeah. So it seems like, because of the meningitis, your brain, quite literally changed . So, whereas before, you were using something that was very heavily reliant on being able to hold a large number of numbers in your head.
Now, by representing it in a visual way, you can use a different part of your brain. Using more spatial reasoning and being able to visualize, right? And you know, it is, it is a physically different part of the brain.
And I think the really fascinating thing about this is that it really highlights how, when you have a class of 30 students, you have 30 different brains that are trying to learn, and each one of those brains will be better or worse at a particular approach.
Ethan: Absolutely. Yeah. what I have seen is this amazing, ability for five, or 10 or 20 different approaches to a problem coming from 20 or 30 students. And they all manage to end in the same place and start in the same place and travel so many different ways to get there. And you can think that it’s traveling different ways through different brains, or different parts of a brain, and it is so much more complicated than I ever gave it credit for.
Denis: So I want to end with, reflecting back on this experience. And, some of our listeners might be math teachers who identify with the you of 20 years ago where they have always been very strong mathematically and they might even relate with how you used to teach your class.
So, short of going out and trying to contract meningitis, what would be your advice to someone who finds themselves in that position to try and make a similar sort of change as you have made?
Ethan: I think the biggest thing is understanding that every student has a way of succeeding, and most of those students successes in math are going to be probably a different path than your own path. And every one of those paths to success is equally valid.
Denis: And as far as classroom policy or actionable items, what is like the first step, the first thing that you would tell a person to do?
Ethan: I think even before classroom policy, it’s focus on relationships. Focus on building relationships with students. If you build a good relationship with a student, if you’re able to build trust with a student everything else doesn’t become easy necessarily, but it becomes easier and sometimes it takes all year long.
Here we are just about in may, I have an algebra student who has struggled all year, has been having such a hard time all year, and has been working so hard and yesterday, aced two assessments for me. The first two perfect scores she’s gotten all year. And I tell you, I don’t know who is more thrilled about this her or me, but we both had tears in our eyes as I was grading them.
And those moments came from developing a relationship. In the end, it’s about developing that trust and being able to listen to your students, being able to understand what it is that they have to bring to the table. And how you can help them use that and leverage that to extend to go further.
Denis: All right. Well I think that is all of our time thank you very much, Ethan, for coming and talking to me. I am sure people out there will really appreciate you sharing your experience.
Ethan: Thank you. Enjoyed it.


Denis: Hey, welcome back. Thank you for making it to the end of the podcast. I recorded this interview probably almost a year ago, and, I’ve thought about it a lot and I’ve talked about it to a couple of people since then; just trying to get myself motivated to actually produce it and transcribe it and put it out there.
The thing that I kept coming back to over and over again was this moment when Ethan describes realizing that he was very demanding and had the zero excuse policy with his students, even though he himself was very much a slacker when he was in school. And it stuck with me because I too, am someone for who math was always fairly easy.
And I too have fallen into this trap where when I see somebody struggling with something that I am good at. Often, it’s very tempting to think that, the answer is work ethic, even though I myself have no experience with work ethic being a successful solution to such a situation.
So maybe when we see someone in our life struggling at something that came easily to us. Maybe they don’t need work ethic. Maybe what they need is some empathy. Maybe what they need is someone to see things from their point of view and help them find a way forward to that works for them. And that might be something completely different than what worked for us.
So once again, thanks for listening. This has been the Teacher Stories podcast. You can find a transcript and discussion of this interview online at And I have a couple more interviews recorded, but I am definitely looking for new stories to record. So if you, or someone you know, has a story that you think is interesting or that other teachers might benefit from hearing, please get in touch with me at , and we will record it.