Sarah Armstrong is a longtime math teacher in Orange County. Before participating in a panel on the role of algebra in the classroom and the world, she sat down in the Zócalo green room to talk cheese, Pokemon, and milkshakes.
What’s your favorite cheese?
White cheddar. Sharp.
Whose talent would you like to have?
I’d like to be a good athlete. Who’s a good athlete? I don’t know. Michael Jordan.
What teacher or professor, if any, changed your life?
A man named Mr. Pawl. He was my eighth-grade algebra teacher. It was really all my eighth-grade teachers. I had an amazing group of teachers.
What are you keeping in your garage that you should have tossed already?
My son’s Pokemon card collection.
How did you get into trouble as a kid?
I found a lot of different ways to get in trouble. I was very much a tomboy. I had very, very short hair, so when the teachers would say, “Boys stop fighting!” I could continue fighting because I was not a boy, they weren’t talking to me! And I didn’t like to go to class.
When and why did you last laugh?
Gosh, I laugh all the time! Usually because I’m self conscious about something, so I’m laughing to cover up the fact that I’m insecure about something. So I laugh at myself. [Laughs.] Like I just did right there.
What promise to yourself do you break most often?
That I’m going to stick to my diet. I looove sugar. Ice cream. Milkshakes. Mint milkshakes—shamrock shakes.
How do you respond to people who think teaching is easy because you get summers off?
I get very defensive because teaching is not easy—summer is when I do all my planning and look for activities that are engaging and nontraditional things I can do with my students. And anyone who knows me knows that I don’t take my summers off. And I also point out that teachers only get paid for nine months out of the year as well.
How are you different from who you were 10 years ago?
I don’t know that I am. I’m healthier; I work out more now than I did. I had a back injury, so 10 years ago I was still very much in pain and confined to work, and that was about it. No energy, no health.
When is it OK to lie?
It’s hard. I mean, you don’t want to hurt someone but at the same time—in the end when the truth comes out it hurts, too. So I don’t know … I think the only time would be when there’s no benefit to the truth, and it would just cause harm.