At the beginning of the school year, a lot of freshman classes are quiet. They are nervous about starting high school. They are scared of the scarry high school teachers that the middle school people warned them about. The freshman in your Algebra class are afraid of the older kids in the room who must be there because they didn’t make it out. So they are quiet, waiting to see if they can ever find their comfort zone again. For me as a teacher, this always seems to be true unless I am teaching a class of bilingual, Spanish-speaking kids. They all seem to know each other, even if they haven’t ever met. They sense somehow that I am not there to hurt them, that I care. So they start getting comfortable pretty fast. Continue reading →
“In my opinion the immediate goal of even committed anarchists should be to defend some state institutions, while helping to pry them open to more meaningful public participation, and ultimately to dismantle them in a much more free society.” ― Noam Chomsky, On Anarchism
I can defend public schools to a point. I can defend some charter schools even more, depending on how well they are open to meaningful participation from their students and families. Especially those students and families who are traditionally underserved. You know who they are, students with special needs, students who grew up on the rez and are now in the city, students who live in ghettos and have a hard time seeing a way out, refugees who are learning their second or third or fourth language to participate in school and rise up, students who identify as a gender other than the one the school registrar says they should. All of these people are your people and they come to your classes. It’s summer now so in the fall, they will come with excitement, a blend of emotions ranging from thrill to terror. You will have their attention while they read you and decide. They will decide whether or not you take them seriously, whether you are there to guard the gates from the likes of them entering, or to supply them with keys, weapons, and wings.
I hear it in the copy room when the line is long and teachers care less and less about making it to class on time. I hear it in the teacher’s lounge passing by the stale donuts that turn me into Homer Simpson every time I see them. I hear it walking through the quad when I see any other teacher. It’s some version of, “15 days left!” or, “Man, I’m done.” or, “I’ve got nothing left.” I even do it myself. Just this week on Monday morning, I saw another teacher and said, “It’s almost Friday!” He laughed viscerally. Continue reading →
How do you write about this? I haven’t been writing anything here since before the election. Since before Betsy DeVos, before the great climate change denial, before we throw the sick out into the streets, before the refugee kids in our classrooms were denied any last hope of refuge, before it was ok to assault women as long as you are famous, before the majority of Evangelical believers sanctioned such behavior, before our proud and massive community of bombs finally lost their mother. Ok the last statement was a joke, one that didn’t come from me, but a good one. There have been a lot of good ones. They help, to a point. But what have I done? I’ve tried to do the same thing I have always done with my students, be open and listen, be professional and teach math. I look for ways to give them stuff to be curious about and challenged by and excited for.
When you teach math, this is a normal conversation:
“Where do you work?”
“I’m a teacher.”
“What do you teach?”
“High school math.”
“Math!? Woah, I could never do that! I was horrible in math.”
With that there is usually involved a period of waiting. The person you are talking with feels you out to see if you care or want to talk about that aspect of their life at all. If you do want to, they will usually tell you something interesting. Something you can maybe use in your career, something that might make you better at what you do. At the very least, you will have connected to another human being, something that math teachers are not all that famous for. Continue reading →
As the year winds down and I have some time to reflect, I’m thinking about my soundtrack. Particularly during the past 5 months of teaching. I can tell a lot about how a year went, just by reflecting on my soundtracks. Normally they are a weird mixtape of old stuff I listen to, new music I learn about, and music I create. This year though, only one album comes to mind, “Beat the Champ” by the Mountain Goats. Continue reading →
The following is taken out of context from a chapter taken out of a larger context from my book, which represents a piece of a life that I still don’t really understand. But whatever, it seems relevant right now.
When I was teaching in Northern California, I was driving to a beach to take a swim at around five thirty one morning in early fall, when the street was blocked off due to a fire. I had to turn around and head back because there was no way to get around it. As I did this, I turned on the radio and heard the news: in New York City, the sky was falling. I came home and turned on the television and saw buildings I had just seen for the first time a couple years ago falling to the ground. I went to school and discussed it with the students, listening to their questions and theories, but I had little to contribute. As time went on, we were told that it had been a plot hatched by Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden and members of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Continue reading →
This is what is left over at the end of the trimester. Every time I finish a big project there is a sort of crash. First I’m excited about everything that went right. For example, I had about 85 freshmen in the small gym presenting work they did about public art in our town, to judges who were art commissioners for the county, economic developers for our local performance art center, the leader for our Hispanic Heritage Foundation, other artists, teachers, parents, and a representative for a local non-profit arts foundation. But I also start to dwell a little bit on stuff I didn’t do. It’s hard not to shake the feeling that maybe you should have covered more stuff from the textbook. It’s kind of a sickness that math teachers have. We like the content, and so we think its somehow really important. It’s what we are supposed to be teaching, they can learn how to apply it later when they get enough skills right? Also, I could have gotten my kids to do better with their statistical analysis on their projects. I could have worked harder to engage that one kid, who never seems to be engaged. I could have not pissed off the janitor so much with all these messes we leave. Continue reading →
I am teaching freshman algebra classes for kids who struggle with math, and one geometry class. I am running a PBL style trimester but got sidetracked by a math problem from illuminations. The idea is that you take a square with area = A, where A is not a perfect square and try to find stacks of smaller squares that are the same height as your large square. I gave the problem to my students and watched them go. It is a pure math problem with no real relationship to the project we are doing related to public art funding (I had planned on folding it into some kind of art assignment with the golden ratio but couldn’t really make it work). So these students who hate math tore into this thing like they were wolves on a fresh kill. Continue reading →
Sometimes you are a part of something so incredible that you are convinced that you will always belong to it. Or even more audaciously, that it will always belong to you. This last week I had the chance to go back to Albuquerque to launch the release of the book. I was able to spend some time working on a plan for alternative assessments at the last school I worked at, and I got to see a lot of my students that I had taught for two years before moving to California. They were finishing up their work for the school year and the seniors gave their final capstone presentations. They were the most professional presentations I had seen from students. Especially after the year they had. Continue reading →