Thomas Pfaff, PhD, is a professor of mathematics at Ithaca College. Pfaff’s primary scholarly work includes incorporating sustainability ideas into mathematics courses, where he maintains a blog on the subject. Although he doesn’t own a cell phone, Pfaff hopes his students know that life is an endurance event and not a sprint.
What would your students be surprised to find out about you?
Pfaff: I don’t own a cell phone.
How do you keep things fresh in the classroom?
Pfaff: There are two keys to this for me. First, there is a sweet spot between over preparing and under preparing for a class. Obviously, if one is under prepared then that’s a problem. But, if every minute of the class is planned out then there can be a reluctance to “go off script.” This leads to point two. It is ok to go off script and follow a train of thought that comes up in a class. This could be either a direct question by a student or something that is said that triggers a thought.
If you could pass on any wisdom to your students, what would you share?
Pfaff: Life is an endurance event and not a sprint. There is no rush to get that perfect job/career at age 22. Explore and be patient about life. As a corollary, knowledge is built up over time and so keep being curious and learning.
What is the hardest thing about being a teacher?
Pfaff: Competing with the screen. It is so easy for students to procrastinate and not study and be in a perpetual state of distraction.
How do you make learning fun?
Pfaff: Learning isn’t fun, it is hard work. This is no different than playing scales on an instrument or doing drills for a sport. Being educated and knowing how to do stuff is fun or maybe better, rewarding.
How would your past teachers describe you as a student?
Pfaff: It’s probably best I pass on this question.