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written Thursday, 11/23/2006

Wow, it’s Thursday already. My 9-day break is already more than half empty. But, it’s Thanksgiving today, so I should at least try to be a little more optimistic, right?

Besides, a few weeks ago I pledged to be more positive in my next entry. Here goes:

Mom just visited for the first time since I moved to the New Orleans area a year and a half ago. Knowing how much of a burden traveling is for her, I was thrilled that she made the trip out to see her big baby boy. Her 4+ day visit got off to a rough start when her flight from San Jose to Dallas got cancelled, and she was originally told that she’d have to wait until the next day to travel. With some persistence, she rescheduled onto a flight into New Orleans at 1am Thursday morning instead of the original 7:30pm Wednesday arrival time. Staying up late on a school night was a small price to pay for seeing my mom for the first time since summer.

On Friday, Mom came over to observe my last three class periods. This was the first time in my 10 years out of college that we’ve arranged to have her visit my workplace. I introduced her as the (former) probation officer that I had to bring out from California to help me keep law and order in my classroom. That joke probably would have been more effective last year, when a number of my students actually had some familiarity with probation officers.

Although I spent the day challenging my students to a math strategy game, Mom got to see some of the joys and struggles of a typical school day this year. She saw how pleasant and personable my students could be, as well as how inattentive and mathematically illiterate some are. During the math game, I repeatedly asked students to give me a number between 1 and 6. A girl in the back of one class kept yelling out,” Nine… eleven…”

As always, I’m thankful for my biggest supporters out here: family friends Nat & Joan. Mom and I visited them on Saturday, when Joan’s 91-year-old mother had also just arrived from Wisconsin for a visit. Nat’s various health problems, as well as my mom’s, remind me to appreciate the time I have with all of them. Mom had visited Nat & Joan a couple times before I had ever met them, and there were times in this past year when the opportunity for all of us to get together looked unlikely to ever occur. Nat & Joan’s positive outlook and faith keep them going, and I can’t imagine how I would have gotten along out here without them.

On Friday I introduced mom to Sunday (my friend), and on Sunday (the day) Mom & I hung out with Michelle. I appreciated the opportunity to prove to Mom once and for all that the new friends of whom I’ve spoken so fondly are not mere figments of my imagination. Ha! One year ago, I remember writing about how thankful I am for the friends I’ve made out here. I’m still trying to get better about letting them know how much I care about them.

After dropping Mom off at her hotel Friday evening, I stopped by the Neutral Ground coffee house to catch the end of Kelcy’s show. When another friend asked how teaching was going, I jokingly replied that it was looking pretty good “now that I don’t have to see my students for nine days.” Literally, no more than ten seconds passed before five of my students walked through the door. The Neutral Ground lost some of it’s charm for me when I found out what a high school hangout spot it is.

Nonetheless, I exchanged pleasantries with the kids, and was once again forced to recognize that I actually kinda like them. Out of six-dozen students, I think it’s quite remarkable that I honestly like every single one of them on a personal level. Ironically, I believe it’s that personal affection that allows so many of them to drive me nuts with their academic unpreparedness and apathy. It’s a tough balance to care about every one of my students without taking home the frustrations every day.

I feel like a natural villain, being a math teacher at such an artsy school, but I do enjoy the wealth of artistic talent at Lusher. The arts teachers have begun displaying visual artwork and creative writing pieces around the school. I’m truly astonished by the quality of work exhibited by these kids. Especially for those who reveal not a hint of ambition in my class, it’s refreshing to see them excel at something. Some of my Algebra 2 students play in the jazz band, which has performed several times during the daily morning meeting. I’m awestruck by their musical talents, and would gladly pay to see them put on a formal performance.

Numerous other students have their hearts set on theater, and I see glimpses of their dramatic flair in my classroom when it comes time for grading. Their charm and social confidence – real or perceived – reminds me of kids I envied back when I was in high school. As an adult, now I’m able to put aside my jealousy and appreciate the theater kids a little more!

I acknowledge that there exists an academically-driven segment of the student body. Having a few nerds in the class is definitely a pleasure. They reassure me that at least a few absorbent young minds are catching and soaking up the moist morsels of mathematical majesty that I regularly spew into the classroom atmosphere like a Faithful Old geyser (Good thing I teach math, and not writing).

Perhaps most of all, I’m thankful for the students who simply do their best, no matter the circumstances. Their degrees of success vary greatly. One boy has respectfully made it clear that math is not his favorite subject. He’s all-around bright, but his strength clearly lies in social/political areas of study. Nonetheless, he consistently works hard in my Algebra 2 class and asks plenty of questions, and gets rewarded with the A grades he earns. Another girl in my PreCalculus class has struggled with math throughout her life. She’d easily earn an A if I were grading students on effort and sweet personalities, but I sadly had to credit her with an F for the first quarter. She took the failing grade quite hard, and I was a little worried that she would give up. Instead, she’s trying even harder, spending hours every week at before- and after-school tutoring. It’s starting to pay off, and she should be able to pass for the semester.

Through their successes, and even their failures, the students who persevere help keep me from giving up on this career quite yet.

Today is Thanksgiving. I don’t need a slaughtered bird or any other holiday symbols to make my day special. This school year may be more trying than I anticipated, so now more than ever I just need an occasional break to remind myself that there are some good things out here. The longest continuous stretch of the school year has passed, and the winter vacation begins just one month from now! Even if I struggle to fully appreciate my new life in New Orleans right now, I truly believe I’ll look back on it someday and be even more thankful.