New math teacher transitions to new job

September 1, 2017 — by Anna Novoselov and Ananya Vadlakonda

On the first few days of school, Algebra 1 and Algebra 2 Honors teacher Andrew Shoemaker handed out a survey to each student asking them questions ranging from their favorite activities to their goals for the year.

Later, when he read the responses, Shoemaker was both impressed and overwhelmed to find that most his students wrote that their overall goals include receiving straight A’s and A pluses this year.

Most Saratoga High teachers have grown accustomed to that kind of mindset from their students.

However, new teachers are often surprised by the academic focus so ingrained in Saratoga High’s culture. Shoemaker immediately noticed the difference in rigor compared to his previous jobs at Waimea High in Waimea, Hawaii, and San Lorenzo Valley High in Felton, Calif.

For now, Shoemaker’s goal is to meet the math department’s expectations and for them to feel happy that they hired him, as well as make good connections and become more “ingrained into the school community.”

Shoemaker said that he already feels comfortable in the new environment and that the rest of the math department has been kind, helpful and understanding of what it is like to be a new teacher here.

In a short period of time, Shoemaker has had to learn the ins and outs of his new school. Although Shoemaker admits that following the pace of the other teachers has been difficult, other math teachers, including Geometry and Pre-Calculus Honors teacher PJ Yim, have helped guide Shoemaker and answer his questions.

“We explain something one time to him and he just figures out the rest,” Yim said. “He’s really sharp.”

Even with 13 years of experience in teaching, however, Shoemaker finds it difficult to work around a generally “negative attitude towards mathematics and school.” This anti-math stigma has been one of the greatest challenges he has faced as a teacher.

“My least favorite part of teaching is having to be a disciplinarian,” Shoemaker said. “I’d rather be a discussion leader when everyone knows their role and is engaged in the class.”

As a result, Shoemaker tries to make his classroom a community, where students offer each other constant encouragement. In a subject like math, where many feel nervous about being in class, Shoemaker focuses on creating a supportive learning environment, with a class philosophy revolving around classroom comfort.

Outside of the classroom itself, Shoemaker has encountered other challenges, including trying to master the separate learning management systems of Aeries and Canvas.

Nevertheless, Shoemaker remains upbeat about his experiences here thus far.

“Succeeding and doing well is really ingrained in the culture and that is a little different from schools in my experience,” Shoemaker said. “It’s one of the things that brought me here.”