Mr. Slope Guy

Classrooms are different now. I mean, similar, too. Desks, a display at the front, the teachers explaining, the students taking notes. But the teacher in this math classroom stands in the back, writing on his iPad, the results visible at the front of the room on a screen, and the students are mostly taking notes on laptops. So it’s different, but the same.

The teacher is explaining slopes with equations and graphs. He’s going over exercises from the homework before giving the students a new problem to work on. 

Behind the students across the room are a couple of posters. One is Mr. Slope Guy, which I don’t get at first, but after studying another poster to the right, titled The 4 Types of Slopes, I understand. Mr. Slope Guy is a face made out of:

  • a positive slope (his left eyebrow), under which is a + for the left eye,
  • a negative slope (his right eyebrow), under which is a – for right eye,
  • an undefined slope (a vertical line) for his nose, and
  • a zero slope (a horizontal line). 

The result is a sort of pensive face, winking at me, perhaps, as if we are sharing a secret. Maybe we are. Namely, he knows that I don’t remember much about slope. That whatever long term benefit I have from four years of high school math doesn’t rest in the actual facts, but rather any habits of good thinking I developed, if indeed I did.

I focus back on the board. An example.

y = x4 – 12x2

The students are looking for maximums and minimums and showing that what they know with an equation. The teacher gets them working independently again and then answers questions of individual students as they have them. The clacking of my typing grows noticeable as the students drop into thought, one with a pencil, one with an iPad, the others with their computers. Math class that is both the same and different since we’ve been having math class. 

The teacher warns students that they have just a minute left, then he will go through the problem step by step.

Another poster on the wall states its version of maximum and minimum. Wrong is Wrong, even if everyone is doing it, and Right is Right, even if no one is doing it. This is not about slope. Perhaps it expresses a personal conviction that is meaningful to the teacher. It is meaningful to me and for a time I’m lost in thought, thinking how we do school, all of us, and wondering if the adage on the poster has anything to say to us.

When I refocus on the class I see that the teacher has, as promised, gone through the problem step by step. His iPad-penned notes are there in front of the class, a student asks a follow up question. As far as I can tell they are all tracking. The teacher invites them to work on some additional problems. 

From his spot on the wall, Mr. Slope Guy observes all of us, forever winking. Maybe he doesn’t take himself too seriously. I wink back at him and smile. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *