Interview with Jaime Krause (The ‘S’ Word)

It is a pleasure to welcome Jaime Krause for an interview about her book The ‘S’ Word (and Other “Curses” of Teaching)! My book readers may be familiar with her name, since she has been my editor for the past years (and a good friend for even longer).

Jaime Krause.

Jaime Krause is a high school mathematics teacher in New Jersey. She first discovered her love for teaching and helping others when she was eight-years-old. She has been a full-time teacher since 2010, first in a private school and then in a public one, teaching across the spectrum of a traditional high school mathematics curriculum. She holds a Bachelor’s of Science in mathematics and a Master’s of Arts in education, both from Kean University, NJ), and has been continuing her education with post-graduate courses since.

Jaime also harbors a love for English Language Arts, and has edited stories (both fanfiction and original work) for friends and colleagues. These skills have helped her grow as a writer. When she is not teaching or editing, she can be found spending time with her husband (also a high school mathematics teacher), talking about Star Wars, reading, or listening to “The Catholic Channel” on Sirius/XM Satellite Radio.

You can purchase her e-book on Amazon.

Snow, an entire month of standardized testing, pep rallies…and yet another round of emergency drills. What is a teacher to do? How many “curses” can one person take?

Evidently, ten months worth of different forms of insanity. Krause analyzes a “curse” for each month of the traditional New Jersey school year and provides some insight on what most teachers will likely have to face.

NG: Can you tell us a bit about your background?

KRAUSE: I have wanted to teach since third grade. I was eight years old, and my non-science teacher (we had one teacher for all subjects except for science, for whatever reason) had told my class that she knew that she wanted to teach when she was in fourth grade. I must have been an egotistical child, because I was determined to “beat” her. That is one of maybe three memories that I have from that year. Another memory from that year is that in science, a classmate asked me for help on a cactus assignment that we were working on. Even though I didn’t know everything, I was still able to explain the question and we worked through the assignment together. That was the moment I knew that I could be a teacher and, more importantly, that I would enjoy being one.

Years later, I was on the fence about whether I would want to major in mathematics or English Language Arts. I leaned heavily towards the former because I didn’t like taking tests on what I read, and the nuances of grammar (including adverbs) always puzzled me. In high school, the pieces of mathematics truly started coming together in Algebra 1. Suddenly, the verbal models made sense, life was explained, the magic of the world was at my fingertips. I was hooked.

I went to Kean University in Union, NJ, and was accepted into a five-year’s Master’s program.  In 2008, I received my Bachelor’s of Science is in “Science and Technology” with the Mathematics Option (although only the Science and Tech is on my diploma); a year later I had my Master’s of Arts is in Education.  I have also taken five post-graduate courses that focused on instruction and curriculum, four of which allowed me to receive my supervisor’s certification. At the present time though, I am more than happy to be in the classroom, and not in administration.

I finally scored a long-term substitution assignment in March 2010, over a year’s worth of applications. They unfortunately did not have an opening for me for the following school year, and I landed a job at a small all-girl’s Catholic school just two weeks before school started. I am eternally grateful to the principal for calling my references and speaking to the principal at the public school about my experience. She also had me teach a slew of courses that truly allowed me to grow both as a teacher and a young adult. Physical science, algebra 2, trigonometry/pre-calculus, and algebra 3 were on my plate that first year. I learned that I could handle four preps even as a new teacher; I learned just what classroom management was, and how to show that I cared for students even while ensuring we were moving along in the curriculum; I learned that being obsessive about perfection absolutely had to be thrown out the window and to take my losses.

After three years of working there, I could additionally tout having algebra 1, geometry, and calculus in my teaching repertoire. I had begun working on incorporated project-based assessments in my classes and was focused on incorporating the set of iPads newly granted to the school. I had ideas! And…then I learned the school would be closing at the end of June 2013.

Fortunately I now had experience, which bolstered my confidence and allowed me to be better with interviews. Before the end of May, 2013 (and about a month and half before my wedding), I was offered a position at a good public school that was in a similar area as my own high school. There, I have taught algebra 1, geometry, standardized test prep, and calculus. Over the past four years, the supervisor has recognized my desire to build on project-based assessments and expose students to different ways of experiencing mathematics in the world; he provided me with the opportunity this past school year (2016-2017) to develop the curriculum for (and then teach) a new class being offered to students: Discrete Mathematics. It has been a wonderful experience and I love working in that district.

I know—that was insanely verbose. I often struggled with word/page limits in college.

NG: What prompted you to write this book?

KRAUSE: I state in the intro, “The idea for this came to me in February of 2017. Snow was imminent, and the students were saying those dreaded words: snow day.” I had glared at my Calculus students and told them to stop cursing, to “knock it off with the ‘s’ word.”

The next day, I went to my in-class support teacher for another class and told her that I had a perfect idea for a book. We hashed out some of the “curses” together, and when I finalized the list, I kept updating her with my progress. My big goal was to make sure that letters that relate to real curse words would be represented, and that there were no repeat letters.

MG: What are some of your best memories as a teacher?

KRAUSE: In my first year at the Catholic school, there was a day when the students were not talking at all. They were writing down notes, but not saying a thing. It was a class of seven, and they were never so quiet. I stopped teaching, stared at them, and simply wrote: “What’s wrong?”

We had a two-minute silent conversation until one burst and let out irritation and difficulties they had dealt with in an earlier class. I let them vent for about 20 minutes (it was a 90-minute class) and then Algebra 2 continued as normal. I learned how to handle a tough situation that showed the students I cared and made the ensuing lesson even better.

The year that school closed, the graduating class (which was a different class, but I still had taught quite a few of them) I was one of the two teachers to whom they dedicated the yearbook.

Even years after I have taught them, students (at both schools) have asked me for recommendations because I understood them as students and people.

The school at which I was a long-term substitute had basic skills classes, which was an additional math class to supplement the traditional one in which students were enrolled. Some students made fun of others for being in basic skills, but one retaliated. This student did not have the greatest academic record yet she turned to the student making fun of her and said that basic skills is there to help students so that they wouldn’t fall behind, and that she was happy for the support. It is great to have students recognize (and stand up for) the work teachers do for them!

Then there are the numerous cards, emails, and verbal affirmations I have received from students, parents, and even counselors:

“This is the first time I fully understand what I’m doing in math.”

“They have always struggled and will always struggle, but thank you for the work you have put in to help them.”

“I am seeing students do well in math and they actually speak well of the class.”

One of the most humorous moments though was again in my first year. I had assigned a research paper, and the students went to the principal to complain. She relayed the conversation to me:

Them: “We have to do a paper!”

Her: “Okay. Is it about math?”

Them: “Yes, but she’s making us write a paper?”

Her: “And?”

Them: “But a paper in math!”

Her: “Good for her.”

NG: Can you tell us about your teaching philosophy?

KRAUSE: This question has always been the most difficult for me, because I have always believed any child can learn, though what and how each learns differs between individuals. Any can learn math, but for a lot of students, knowing how to divide polynomials by hand is utter crap. Yet, the processes, the logic, being able to check their work and recognize if a result makes sense or not…those skills are needed for anything in life. Maybe you won’t be doing a traditional system of equations by hand to do shopping or your taxes, but we all do a modified version of them in some way. Learning each skill is essential in the long run, even if it’s only for the sake of general analysis.

I also love incorporating technology and interdisciplinary concepts. Both have been part of my philosophy since 2004, when technology in many schools was limited to calculators and research. Yet I knew education would be one of the first areas of expertise that would incorporate changes made both globally and sub-culturally for technology. For math though, I believe that having traditional lessons with handwritten notes is required. I learned Calculus on the computer, and it was an utter detriment to my understanding of the content. I had to re-teach myself (okay, my husband—then boyfriend—had to help me relearn) the material. But discussions, online and physical manipulatives, interactives, easy ways for quick formative assessments with immediate feedback…all are fantastic implementations of new applications and websites in the growing field of technology.

I have always been open to working with another teacher on cross-curricular lessons. Implementing such teaching strategies is very difficult, though something I dipped my toe in at the Catholic school since I taught science and incorporated some chemistry in that class, meaning I could bring those connections into my math courses. I have also spoken with science and English teachers at my current school to see how I can rephrase some of my lessons and directions that worked better with what I knew students had seen in other classes. Understanding those connections truly helps students comprehend the concepts more, and to see why the content is important to experience. I have witnessed these relationships come alive within students.

That excitement in even a few students demonstrates the importance of ensuring that each course is not solely taught independently, but that in-depth connections are made at least once a unit.

NG: Do you see more “curses” to write about in the future?

KRAUSE: Most likely not, mainly because it took me almost a week to fine-tune this list! However, I’m open to whatever inspiration I may receive. Maybe I won’t have any more teaching “curses,” but that doesn’t mean the “ABCs of Calculus Curses” (I just made that up now, and I love the title) will not find its way on my digital shelf in the future.

NG: That sounds promising! Thank you very much for being with us today, Jaime!

The ‘S’ Word Cover.

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