Helping teachers have a greater impact on the lives of their students every day

Apathetic Students + Boring Curriculum + Cramped Classroom + 1 Teacher: You Are The Variable

tips for new teachers

I learned this from the algebra teacher on my team. She was having a particularly rough day with her students, and during the break in between classes, she was  out in the halls with that “I’m about to throw a kid out the window look.” Then she saw me and smiled.

I walked over, and all she said was, “I’m the variable. I’m the variable.” She was talking to me, but actually reminding herself of a concept that she uses in her algebra classes.

In algebra, each equation has a variable. It’s a letter that is included in the equation to signify the number that will determine the result of the equation.  For example: x+7=____. The variable is x. Whatever we make x to be will determine the final result. I know most of you know what a variable is, but  just in case there are a few non-math people out there, well you know.

The most important and influential part of the equation is the variable.

This is what my colleague was trying to remind herself of: Although there may be a class-full of students who do not want to learn, and maybe the curriculum isn’t that exciting, and perhaps the room is too small, the most important and influential element in that classroom is the teacher.

She decided to change her emotions at that moment to become the variable that will make that equation have a positive result.

We determine the outcome of our classes. Yes, there are always going to be instances that we can’t contol like a surprise fire drill or the air conditioner breaking down, but we have the greatest impact on the result that our classroom equation will produce. If we come in with a bad attitude, or if we bring in our baggage from home, or if we come in unprepared, it will have a negative affect on the outcome of the equation.

We are the variable, not the students, not the classroom, not the lesson. We are the variable that will determine how the classroom will end.

You are going to have those bad days. We all have them, but be careful not to place all the blame on the students or the weather or the time of day. Much of what happens in the classroom is determined by the most imporant element in the equation – the teacher.

Choose to be that variable that will make the outcome of that day’s equation a postive one.

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Photo by thisismiki


  1. December 6, 2010    

    One of the most exciting things I learned in teacher’s college was that the teacher can be the key to student success. In fact, one of my profs wrote a book called “The teacher is The Key”. This book was my “bible” for many years as I tried my best to be the key and help my students unlock the door to success.

    The notion that the teacher can be the key to student success filled me with optimism then as it does now more than 25 years later. It was one of the reasons I chose to work with struggling/reluctant students all these years. I felt that I could be instrumental in helping students help themselves do the best they could.

    • Sam's Gravatar Sam
      December 6, 2010    

      I wonder if that book is available. It should be a mandatory read for new teachers. Thanks again Elona.

  2. Michael's Gravatar Michael
    July 2, 2013    

    And this extends to realizing that whatever happens, we cannot take “it” out on these students. We may share a reason for our enthusiasm but we should not wear our hearts on our sleeves. I also let my students know that if I’m having a particularly harsh day then it only makes sense that they are forewarned so that they don’t think that it’s their fault and not take things personal.

    • Sam's Gravatar Sam
      July 3, 2013    

      Very good point Michael. We all have bad days. It’s not fair to take it out on the kids. Thank you for your comment.

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