Yixuan Yang (SED’17, math education) sat down with Clinical Assistant Professor Ziv Feldman to find out more about his background, his teaching, and his connection with the School of Education. Professor Feldman got his masters and doctorate here at BU, and now he is teaching undergraduate and graduate-level courses in mathematics content and methods for pre-service elementary, secondary, and special education.
YY: Where did you go to school?
ZF: I grew up in Brookline, and I went to elementary, middle and high school in the Brookline public schools. I received my undergraduate degree from Cornell University, and then completed my graduate degrees here at BU in the math education program.
YY: Why did you want to pursue a career in education?
ZF: After college, I went into investment banking mostly because it seemed like a great opportunity to do challenging work and to live in New York City. Also, it was what many of my friends did. It didn’t take me very long, though, to switch to education because I always had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to be a math teacher. Back in high school, I had great teachers who seemed to enjoy their work a great deal. Being in a vibrant school environment also appealed to me. At the end of the day, I wanted to pursue a career that would allow me to have a direct impact on others, so teaching seemed like a natural move for me.
YY: What’s your favorite topic to teach?
ZF: Right now, I teach math content courses for early childhood and elementary school teachers. I also teach methods courses for middle school and high school math teachers. I love to teach all of these courses for very different reasons. I love the content courses because we get to dig into mathematics that my students will actually teach in their future classes. We also see how powerful it can be to make sense of ideas as opposed to simply memorizing formulas. I also really enjoy teaching the methods course because we spend a lot of our time exploring strategies for teaching mathematics. We also grapple with some of the most common issues that new teachers run into, and I always learn new things when listening to students’ different perspectives and experiences. I also regularly have students videotape themselves teaching parts of lessons, so seeing the progress they make from one video to the next is very exciting!
YY: What advice you will give to pre-service teachers?
ZF: My first piece of advice is to identify the learning goals for your students when you are lesson planning. Lessons are not always going to go exactly as planned, but if you have a clear sense of what your goals are you can often get back on track and make reasonable in-the-moment decisions.
The other piece of advice is to do everything you can to get to know your students and let them know that you genuinely care about them. Sometimes I think we get so busy worrying about lesson planning, grading, and covering content that it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that our students, like all of us, want to feel cared for and respected. Take the time to talk to each of your students, find out what their interests are, let them know yours. Let them know that you will do everything you can to support them.
YY: If you can recommend one thing for me that I have to do before graduation, what would it be?
ZF: I recommend you go and talk to current teachers. Go and observe their classes so that you see a variety of teaching approaches. Ask them questions about their work, about students, and about maintaining a work-life balance. In our methods classes, in preparation for writing their teaching philosophy statements, students have to interview a veteran teacher. Teachers hold an incredible amount of professional knowledge, so we have to proactively seek it out and use it to inform our own teaching.
YY: Could you share one thing you love about the School of Education at BU?
ZF: I did my masters and doctoral degree here, so I have been here for a little while. One thing that I have always appreciated about SED is that this is both a serious place where faculty and students develop deep professional knowledge, and a place where you can have fun and make good friends. In math education, we have undergrad and grad students coming together on the 7th floor working on math problems every week. Faculty will often join in on these conversations, which creates a fun and collaborative work environment. There seems to be a collective caring and passion for our work and for each other at SED.