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This I Believe

KUHF-Houston Public Radio’s “This I Believe” with Mike Vogel

Mike is originally from Oregon. He’s lived in many places and about two years ago, got an offer to teach at KIPP High School in Houston. That experience is the inspiration for his essay for this program. As a young teacher, Mike learned early what many teachers know…that teaching really is a hard job, but there are often wonderful and unexpected rewards.



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After graduating from Reed College in Oregon in 1997, Mike took to the road. Among the many places Mike has lived include Chicago, Hawaii, Italy, Argentina and Houston. Mike has a brother in Chicago. His mother and youngest brother still live in Salem, Oregon. That’s where Mike has roots and where he calls home.

In addition to being a math teacher, Mike is pursuing a graduate degree from the University of Houston in Applied Mathematics. Mike also enjoys writing and storytelling. He’s a natural writer and is learning how to write for his own voice. His essay for this program is a perfect example.

Here’s Mike Vogel with his essay for KUHF’s This I Believe.
“Every year the newness of a new year wears off by mid-September and then it’s eight months of a grueling uphill battle. I question often whether or not it’s worth it…all the work and sweat to try and teach my students mathematics.

They don’t get it. They don’t study. They don’t have an inquisitive bone in their bodies. They don’t do their homework. How can I teach them anything if they don’t respond to my efforts with effort of their own? If my students knew just a little what I go through to provide them with quality instruction maybe then they might start to appreciate.

The little things are countless. I write recommendation letters hoping for a simple “thanks” in return. I baked cookies once and never heard the end of why don’t I bake more often? I create engaging lessons about planets following elliptical orbits and ocean tides modeled by trigonometric functions and volumes of solids revealed through revolution, integration, and play-doh and my students are too busy texting their friends to notice.

They stopped listening a while ago. The year is long and often I wonder why do I do this? But then a funny thing happens on the way to the prom.

I’m a little bitter giving up yet another precious weekend night to chaperone. The bitterness is eased by my lovely English-teacher girlfriend on my arm. From the second we arrive we are mobbed by student after student wanting to say hi. They are very interested in meeting my date. They express their surprise that I hadn’t in fact Photoshopped her into the photo of us sitting on my desk. They approach her with a “hi Sarah, nice to finally meet you. We’ve heard all about you. You really have a lot of work to do with Mr. Vogel’s grammar.”

Just when you thought they never listen to a word you say.

And as they turn to me, say hi, give me a hug with their eyes sparkling for the first time since I don’t remember when…I see something in that moment. I see the relief in a very long year drawing to an end. I see genuine care and respect and admiration where I swear I saw nothing but contention and apathy and disinterest. And I see gratitude. I see that simple little thank-you I’ve wanted to hear all year. Thank-you for caring. Thank-you for all the hard work. Thank-you for teaching me the Quadratic Formula. Thank-you for being a teacher. Thank-you for being MY teacher.

So I do believe teaching is hard. But those thank yous and moments like these make it all worth while. This I believe.”