When I interview folks, I periodically like to follow-up and get suggestions for other people they think I should interview. That’s how I landed an interview with Zak Champagne, a fellow music nut (in a good way) and a fourth grade math teacher at Mandarin Oaks Elementary School in Jacksonville, Florida. Shelby Miller of the Shifted Sound podcast recommended that I pick Champagne’s brain for his thoughts on teaching math and enjoying music. My thanks to Champagne for his time and Miller for the suggestion.
Tim O’Shea: What attracted you to teaching in the first place and math in particular?
Zak Champagne: First and foremost, I was going to be a rock star. Teaching wasn’t really in the plans until college. You see I had everything ready for rock superstardom except for the talent of playing or singing music. Now I was in a band…but we were much more into the superficial things about being in a band rather than actually being a band. But…I sort of knew towards the end of high school that I wanted to teach. Once I got into college (University of North Florida) I thought I wanted to teach high school. It seemed rather logical to me. But while I was preparing to become a teacher, I took a job at a youth center here in town and ended up working with K-2nd grade students. And it was during that time I had found my calling.
Now the math thing is a bit more interesting. Once in elementary school I saw a need to make mathematics meaningful to my students. I encountered so many young students who already hated mathematics. And to me that was not okay. I have to find a way to inspire my students to love mathematics for what it is. And I found one of the best ways to do that is to make it meaningful and fun.