Not everyone can do what More Than SAT’s new team member Mark Moskowitz has done for nearly 40 years as an educator. This accomplished math teacher and former administrator has authored numerous test preparation and problem solving books, guided the professional development of other teachers, and advised many schools on curriculum. And very few can top it off with the self-description, “half comedian, half educator.”
But we can all learn a few basics about teaching that Mark shares from his experience. First off: “Teaching is about building trust. Students are more willing to try the things you’re asking them to try if they believe you’re working in their best interest.”
Another one of Mark’s tips applicable to parenting is to give children as many different tasks and experiences as possible. “The better they’ll be as a learner and a doer as they get older. Or, with the same task, look for as many possible different ways of having your child do anything,” he says (like a true math teacher). “And that’s how they become resourceful, and the more tools they’ll have in life.”
Teaching is something that students should do as well, since they learn more when they teach others. “The basis of learning is in communication,” Mark says. “When you teach something, you automatically do some introspection into your own understanding. You never learn something as well as you do when you teach it. Your understanding becomes much better; your explanation is powerful.”
Avoiding boredom in retirement
Mark joins the More Than SAT team while he is officially in retirement. Though retirement is something he looked forward to for much of his life, “The fact is: You get bored,” he said. “If you have the ability to still do something you’ve done all your life, you should do it. It’s part of you; you can’t just turn that off.”
Teaching is a “yearning” for Mark. Even when he was principal, he would walk into classrooms and start teaching. “I kinda get lonely when I don’t do it,” he said. “The connection with someone through teaching is really special.”
His first assignment from More Than Scores And Tests was to co-teach a 9-session SAT prep course to 31 students at Horizon Science Academy McKinley Park on Chicago’s Southwest Side. Having spent most of his successful career in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) system, he loved it.
Making (or least trying to make) yourself relevant
As Mark encountered certain challenges in CPS, he learned: “The challenges are minimized if you make yourself relevant, and the students believe they can get something of value from you. Do you have the ability to make their lives better?”
But he also found that there are some problems that can’t be solved no matter how hard you try, such as absenteeism in both students and teachers. Perhaps the most difficult challenge was: “When the delight in students’ eyes wasn’t there anymore. When the desire wasn’t there, and the belief wasn’t there that school was going to mean something.”
Mark always tried to find some entrance into students’ lives.Yet, as was his experience as a coach for Varsity baseball and basketball, “You can try to connect with as many people as you can, but sometimes that doesn’t happen.” He found this to be true in both rough urban environments and affluent suburban areas.
About the “math gene” myth
Trying to reach people through teaching math revealed some interesting beliefs, especially in those who struggle with mathematics. “People treat it like it’s a genetic defect, like there’s a bad gene passed from generation to generation,” Mark said. “And some people think if you don’t learn math, it’s ok because only ‘smart’ people learn math.”
But as Mark enjoys doing math in his car, calculating without a GPS exactly what time he’ll reach a place, he underscores that math is everywhere and it’s “more natural to humans than language is.”
He goes on: “There are countless different languages in the world, but there’s only one number system. Most humans have the same number of fingers, which is why we’re in Base 10. No matter what people think or talk about – how old are you, how much you make in a year, etc. – numbers describe a lot of things for people.”
You can request Mark Moskowitz for one-on-one academic coaching in math or for preparation for standardized tests or college entrance exams. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.