It took me a long time to realize the full value of my high school teachers. Of course I appreciated the time and energy they spent teaching in the classroom, and grading papers or making lesson plans out-of-class. But teachers have the potential to offer so much more! Below is a list of 8 questions I never asked my high school teachers, and why I wish I had.


1. What is the day-to-day life of a high school teacher? Do you continue to find teaching intellectually stimulating, or does it begin to feel monotonous as years go by?

Becoming a high school teacher is high on my list of potential careers, but I didn’t know that in high school. Now, as college graduation approaches and the whole wide world of “occupational decision-making” looms on the horizon, I regret not taking advantage of the wealth of information that my teachers could have offered me. Even if you don’t expect to become a teacher (I certainly didn’t), it is almost never a bad idea to learn about an occupation from a more personal perspective. Not to mention, your teacher will likely appreciate your interest.


2. What did you study in college? What was that major like? (work load, collaboration, creativity, in-class vs out-of-class time, exams vs essays vs projects, etc)

Picking a college major (or majors, or minor) is not an easy task, and not one to be taken lightly. In college, areas of study are much more focused. They are designed to immerse the student in a specific subject. Whatever you choose to study, you will find yourself spending hours and hours a week thinking, talking, writing, and reading in one academic area. As a high school student, selecting the appropriate major can be a daunting task. It should serve as a comfort to know that you have a whole building full of resources at your disposal! Teachers can give great insight into what it’s like to study their field of knowledge.


3. What is the best class you’ve ever taken?

I wish I’d asked this question of so many people. It’s a great way to discover classes to take in both high school and college, especially classes outside of your comfort zone or those which you may never have considered otherwise. I would recommend asking all of your favorite teachers this question, and compiling their answers into a list. That way, when registration opens and your faced with thousands of potential courses to choose from, you’ll have a good place to start.


4. How is X being applied outside of academia?

Though the simple existence of calculus may be enough to ignite some students’ passion, for many others there’s a degree to which learning in high school feels arbitrary or even pointless. As a math major myself, I can confess to feeling frustrated when teachers of various subjects assigned seemingly tedious worksheets or problem sets. I’ve often found it helps to discover applications of the skills I’m learning. If your teacher isn’t providing these connections during class time, try asking for them after class. Maybe you’ll even discover a cool area of research!


5. I’m interested in learning more about X. Could you recommend any good books on the topic?

Be attentive to the subjects that excite you, the assignments you do right when you get home and then bring up again at the dinner table. Discovering your passion(s) is an important step towards determining what you want to do in life. Once you’ve found a topic that interests you, go talk to your teacher about it! Odds are high they’ll have more than one resource to recommend you, and they’ll probably also be excited to discuss your passion with you.


6. Do you know of any resources where I could find more practice questions/exams?

Big test coming up? At a loss for what to study? Even if your teacher has already provided some study materials, it almost never hurts to ask for more suggestions. You could also ask their favorite study strategy, to get some ideas.


7. I’m having a lot of trouble keeping up with the workload this week. Could we sit down and discuss ways in which I might still be able to hand in the assignments for full marks?

We’ve all had those weeks that feel like they’re never going to end. Often those are when the stress can become so overwhelming, it might make it hard to do any work at all. People, and teachers especially, are often understanding of the situation and are willing to work with you to come up with a solution.

8. Why do you teach X? What’s your favorite part of the subject? What continues to interest you year after year?

This is the question I most regret not asking. If there’s anything that has the potential to bring life to a high school class, it’s the passion that somebody else feels for the subject. Your teacher has not only studied the that topic in-depth for many years, but has also dedicated his or her entire life to teaching it. At best, you may start to see the subject as your teacher does, and find that you have a deep interest as well. At worst, you’ll get to witness the excitement and happiness that people exude when they talk about their passions. There’s no downside, and a whole lot of upside.



Rebecca Shapiro

Rebecca Shapiro

Becca Shapiro is a student at Duke University in the class of 2019 studying Mathematics and Creative Writing. Becca is interested in exploring the power of interdisciplinary study, in particular the mutually beneficial impacts of combining STEM fields and the arts. After graduation, Becca intends to become a high school mathematics teacher and a novelist. In her free time, Becca enjoys long runs, funk concerts, and the combination of good food with better conversation.
Rebecca Shapiro

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