To teach is first to be so passionate about the work, that the novice only feels the joy and can’t help but want to lean in. But then, to teach is to bridle your own joy so the novice seamlessly begins to only feel his own excitement and eagerness as he matures. The student is externally inspired, yes, but their discovery comes from within, and this is what makes a good teacher.
Eitan Chatav is the lead math guide at ATI’s San Francisco campus, where the students can palpably feel his love for the work. They lean in, because it’s nearly impossible not to.
“For me, it’s aesthetic,” he says. “I think math is very beautiful.”
Eitan actually didn’t start enjoying math until his college years, where he received his undergraduate in applied mathematics at Columbia and went on to receive his PhD at Stony Brook. Even then, teaching seemed like a natural path.
“I remember being in classes and thinking, ‘If I was going to teach these classes, this is what I would do.’ ”
What he does today is simple. He engages with the students in a gentle, meaningful way.
“I’m not into taking a kind of authoritarian position,” Eitan says. “I try to treat the students like peers, because it helps to build the trust.”
And he’s empathetic in their learning journey.
“You can make math as warm and friendly and inviting as possible, but a lot of people have a built-in antipathy toward math,” he says. “Whether it comes from their history with the subject or even just their personal aesthetic, they don’t see anything interesting or valuable in it. That can be hard to break down, but I’ve made some good progress by having that friendly atmosphere and being patient. Patience is the most important thing when helping students with math.”
It’s also important to Eitan that students trust his genuine joy for the work. They might not see the beauty in the same way he does, but he hopes they’d appreciate whatever it is he sees.
“I want students to get to a place where they not only love math as much as I do, but also to a place where they are good at it,” he says. “To do that, I have to show that I really like the subject. They need to feel that it’s not drudgery on my end and feel a certain amount of sympathy toward me as the teacher, too, so they can build an emotional connection to it and hopefully replace any negative vibes they might have had.”
And he sees the hope in this. Eitan says his students ask for advice and are interested in exploring math careers. Outside of ATI, Eitan runs a consulting business for mathematical software, and this “real-world experience” helps to inform the conversations about what’s possible.
“But teaching for me is much more rewarding, because there’s a human element,” he says. “What I enjoy about the students is getting that feedback or that feeling that you’re really helping someone.
“It’s very rewarding here.”